When you hear someone mention King Henry VIII, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Six wives, beheadings, Jonathan Rhys Meyers? His is a crazy, fascinating story. VIII by H. M. Castor was first published in the UK in 2011; Simon & Schuster came out with this sexy-cover edition in 2013.
The book lingers on Henry’s teen years, a period of time that is swooshed through in other books on the King. He was handsome, intelligent, and a gifted athlete who loved competition. Too bad for him that he was also the “spare son,” the one who would only be king if his older brother, Arthur, died. Castor imagines what it was like for this teen; watching his father groom Arthur to be king, escorting the Spanish princess who will become Arthur’s wife. The story of Henry’s more famous exploits, such as the parade of wives and the break with the Catholic Church, are included, but sketched out in a condensed fashion. It’s an excellent introduction to the political intrigues and scandals of the time.
Check out this book trailer:
The song is also an import, part of the “British invasion” of pop rock in the 1960s. It’s a bit silly, a recycled Irish pub song that dates from the early twentieth century. The only link between VIII and this song is the title, “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.” Below is a clip of the impossibly young Herman’s Hermits, singing one of their least favorite hits.
-Diane Colson, currently reading Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An education in war by Megan K. Stack, and listening to The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, narrated by Alana Kerr.
The wealth of paranormal YA books keeps growing. Angels, mermaids, werewolves, dragons and vampires are all great for escapism. But readers live in the real world, where it’s not Twilight and there are no Mortal Instruments. Contemporary realistic YA fiction is girding its loins and tackling issues important to today’s teens head-on, from self-esteem to sexting, predators, eating disorders, and feeling like an outsider.
Sasquatch in the Paint, published 2013 by Disney-Hyperion, may be loosely based on author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s experiences growing up, but it is definitely not just another basketball book. This story for both middle grade and young adult readers is about Theo, an 8th grader who grew six inches over the summer and is now taller than all his friends and many of his teachers. He has been recruited by the basketball coach even though he has never played before. The coach expects him to help the team win its first game in years.
Theo is also a member of the school’s Science Club and preparing to help them win the “Aca-lympics,” a science trivia contest. He can’t split himself and do both. That leaves him forced to make a choice, one hampered by an unspoken fear: that he’s just not good enough for either role.
Here he was. Panicky. Gawky. His throat so dry it scratched when he swallowed.
If that’s not enough, his cousin, a musical genius with his own self-esteem issues, accuses him of stealing one of his songs. He needs to convince more than the mysterious girl called Rain that he is not a “Sasquatch.” He needs to prove it to himself.
A Trick Of The Light, by Lois Metzger, published 2013 by Belzer + Bray, is a first person story, narrated by the voice inside Mike’s head. Anorexia Nervosa is not just a female issue. Ten percent of the people in the United States with eating disorders are male, “overlooked, understudied and underreported.” The voice observes Mike and his family dynamics, and persuades him to act, to gain control of his life–of his body, at least. He recently lost his grandmother, his father is so busy he is seldom around and finally leaves for good on the arms of a new young girlfriend and his mother is emotionally distant. The voice is not evil, not his enemy. It claims to be the best friend Mike ever had. It only wants to help Mike, because:
I think parents generally do their children more harm than good, and Mike’s parents are no exception.
Mike joins that ten percent when he finds a mirror, listens to the voice, and begins his attempt to find control through starvation and over-exercise. He doesn’t see it as not eating but as making himself better, even as he drops his old friends and the baseball team (it’s too sedentary) and takes up running and bulky sweatshirts to hide the caved in chest that is one of his “signs of success.” Only the people around him see his success as a problem. And only Mike can make the decision to stick with his voice, or try to find a way to leave the voice in the pit and be free.
The deceptively beautiful cover of Panic by Sharon Draper published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2013, hides a dark reality. Layla is dealing with a demanding boyfriend who wants her to prove she loves him. Her lack of self-esteem leads her to agree to letting him take a few topless pictures of her. They are supposed to be just for him.
Until he gets mad at her.
Layla’s mistake is nothing compared to the one her friend Diamond makes. Fifteen year old girls are supposed to understand stranger danger. But the pedophile who lures Diamond into his car has spent time stalking her, and knows exactly what to say to to get her to drop her guard. He claims to be a filmmaker and the father of a child actress. He offers her the too good to be true chance to meet two of her favorite stars. When he sweetens the deal with a chance for her to audition for a role in a film with them, but only if she comes along now, she doesn’t take time to reason things through. Her last text message to her friends:
this was 2 good 2 pass up
Friends and family hold vigils and cooperate with the police, while Diamond deals with the horrors of captivity and the kind of starring role she never wanted. In the end, only Layla has any chance of understanding what Diamond went through.
Trafficked by Kim Purcell, published in 2012 by Penguin Group, tells the story of Hannah, a seventeen year old girl tricked into traveling from Moldova in Eastern Europe, to a suburban house in Los Angeles. She thinks she is going to be a nanny and send money home to her relatives. Instead she is physically and sexually abused, then forced to chose between working sixteen-hour days with no pay or becoming a prostitute. Her lack of English skills makes it easy to keep her too afraid to talk to police or complain to strangers. All she has is the boy next door. He begins to suspect that something is off, but he doesn’t know what it is or what he should do. The idea of a girl being held captive in his middle class neighborhood is unthinkable. Yet the author points out that thousands of people are trafficked into the United States every year, and at least half are children, hidden in warehouses, brothels, and in regular neighborhoods.
In Revenge Of A Not So Pretty Girl by Carolita Blythe, published 2013 by Delacorte Press, fourteen-year-old Faye is still praying for breasts (any kind of bump or curve would do). At first you think this will be just another story about a girl giving the school’s hot cliche a much-needed lesson. Pretty girls spurn Faye, boys don’t notice her, and her own mother – well, the less said about that woman who gets abusive when life gets hard, the better. Faye’s two best friends (only friends) suggest they get revenge on beautiful people by robbing a former movie star. Faye agrees. The woman may be old, but she was once a beauty and that makes her mean and deserving of whatever happens to her. Only things quickly go wrong, and the old lady is left unconscious or dead while the girls run off. Faye’s Catholic conscience sends her back to the scene. She finds the woman still alive.
Faye begins an interaction with the elderly white woman that leaves both of them examining their lives and struggling to change for the better. Faye begins to gain confidence, and when she begins to see herself in a new light, so do the kids at school, and the boy next door. The setting is 1984 New york, just far enough in the past so that technology (Facebook, YouTube and mobile phones) do not get in the way of the story, yet still fresh enough to appeal to many teens who think of themselves as outsiders.
This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers and published in 2011 by Cinco Punto Press is about Khosi, a fourteen-year-old in South Africa who wants an education and has plans for a future. But she is pursued by superstition and an older man who believes sex with a teenaged virgin will cure him from AIDS. She struggles to keep her goals in sight and remain true to her beliefs. She has to deal with the clash between her belief in the modern, scientific world of biology and Christianity, and the old culture that believes in the spirits of the ancestors, witches and herbal muthi (medicine). People expect her to pick one side, and one side only, but Koshi feels strongly about both halves of her life and culture. She realizes that no matter how much we learn, no matter how much we know or think we know, there are still many things in the world around us left unexplained by science and logic. Should she become a nurse, or a traditional healer?
American teens will be able to relate to many of Khosi’s experiences – a first boyfriend, conflicts with family members, friends who make poor decisions – things that are common to adolescents and teens everywhere. (This Thing Called the Future is a 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults selection.)
I picked up the language inside by Holly Thompson, published 2013 by Delacorte Press, thinking it was one kind of book, and quickly discovered it was something else. Something more. This book told in verse is about people learning to be themselves and to express themselves. Emma has been raised in Japan since infancy, she considers the country and culture hers, even though she sticks out wherever she goes. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, the family moves to Massachusetts to live with her grandmother while Mom is being treated. And suddenly, Emma is an outsider in a whole new world. She looks like she belongs, but she doesn’t feel a part of anything.
I don’t know when to say what
I don’t know if something’s funny or not
I don’t get sarcasm
layered over sarcasm
and jokes made by
I know how to read silence in Japan
I can read the air in Japan
but I don’t have a clue
how to read the air here.
She joins the Model UN group at her school only to be ridiculed when mentions being from Japan asks if anyone there speaks the language. Then she volunteers at a nursing home and meets Zena, a woman paralyzed by a stroke, able only to move her eyes. Worry and the culture shock have brought on migraines, attacks that come with no warning, leaving Emma blind, nauseous, and helpless. She and Zena learn to communicate, to tell stories and write poetry and express their feelings and will to live. Emma also meets Samnang, a boy whose Cambodian mother survived the killing fields, and whose American father is an alcoholic the family warns him away from. He doesn’t communicate much beyond a shrug or a “Hey,” but his compassion and dancing skills send her messages beyond words.
Reality bites– because sometimes readers want a dose of reality. And frequently, even the most reluctant reader can be tempted by the stories “behind the headlines.”
-B. A. Binns, currently reading The Last Boy On Earth by Greg van Eekhout and listening to The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Good morning, Hub readers!
Last week we wanted to get your take on the best bromance in YA lit. Harry and Ron from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is clearly your most beloved bromance with 49% of the vote, while 13% of you favored Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. Write-ins included Jenn’s suggestion of Augustus and Isaac from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and B.A. Binns’ suggestion of the titular characters from Walter Dean Myers’ Darius & Twig, as well as Standish and Hector from Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!
Today’s Monday Poll topic was suggested to us by Hub reader Alissa earlier this year: what fictional book featured in YA lit do you most want to read?
A fictional book is one that doesn’t actually exist, but appears in a work of literature as though it’s real. Sometimes a fictional book plays a significant role in a story’s plot and sometimes it’s a brief mention of a memorable title. Either way, these invented works often sound highly intriguing. Vote in the poll below, and be sure to leave a comment if we’ve missed your favorite one!Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
Today’s post comes from the Beta Books club at my library, which reads, reviews, and generally has a grand time discussing ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) of upcoming teen books. Our review form includes a cover discussion, space to share thoughts on the book, and 1-5 star rating. Thanks to today’s reviewers for agreeing to share their thoughts on The Hub! SPOILER ALERT: Some reviews mention plot points.
Book: The Dream Thieves: Book II of the Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater
What did you think of the cover? I love the cover, and I definitely think it matches the story. Ravens are a major part of the book, so I think it’s great that they’re included too.
What did you think of the book? This sequel actually surpassed my expectations. The first book, The Raven Boys (a 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten winner), was actually more of a mediocre read for me, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the second one. While the beginning did start off a bit slow, and took some time getting into it, The Dream Thieves is worth sticking with and reading to the very end. It’s too hard to talk about this book without giving anything away, but I can say that it was filled with an intricate plot, complex characters and beautiful writing. There was so much more depth to the raven boys – Ronan, Noah, Adam and Gansey – this time around. We’re given more insight into how they feel and think, and all of the secrets they possess. The Gray Man was also one of my favorite aspects of the story. He was complicated, fascinating, and just really grew on me. He was the best villain I’ve read in a story in a long time.
I would recommend The Dream Thieves to a friend, especially to someone who was disappointed with the first book, because this book will make you look at the series with a new eye.
How would you rate this book? 5 stars: Unbelievable! I’d rather read this book than sleep!
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Book: The Sasquatch Escape, by Suzanne Selfors
What did you think of the cover? I liked the cover, but I would do the cover more realistic.
What did you think of the book? I thought the book was great. I liked the book because it was funny. My favorite part of the book was when the squirrels came. Yes, I would tell others about the book, and they should read it.
How would you rate this book? 4 stars: Awesome. I loved it and would give it to a friend.
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Book: The Infinite Moment of Us, by Lauren Myracle
What did you think of the cover? I thought the cover was super cute. The cover was a perfect match to the story & I would change nothing about it.
What did you think of the book? I thought this was a very good book. I loved the love story, the characters Charlie & Wren. Even P.G. & Tessa. I didn’t dislike anything about the book. I love the part when Charlie goes after Wren in the end! I would definitely recommend this book to a friend.
How would you rate this book? 5 stars: Unbelievable! I’d rather read this book than sleep!
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Book: The 100, by Kass Morgan
What did you think of the cover? I thought the cover was interesting. It did match the story. I think the cover should be of Earth with “The 100” on it.
What did you think of the book? I really, really liked this book. The author did an amazing job of bringing the characters to life. I don’t like the fact that this book is going to be a series on the CW Columbus. I loved the part when Clarke & Bellamy find the medicine & kiss in the field. Team Bellamy all the way! I’ve already recommended this book to 5 people. :)
How would you rate this book? 5 stars: Unbelievable! I’d rather read this book than sleep!
Becky O’Neil, currently reading Just One Day by Gayle Forman
The end of Banned Books Week is almost upon us. Banned Books Week celebrates readers everywhere and encourages us to pick up a book whose content has, at some point, been questioned. Chances are, you love a book that has ended up on a banned books list, although you might not realize it yet. Everything from the Harry Potter series to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, has been challenged in a public or school setting.
Common reasons for materials being challenged include “violence,” “racism,” “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” content, and of course, being “unsuited for age group.” With reasons like these, you can imagine how wide the range of challenged materials is. It also might not come as a surprise that E L James’ buzzworthy 50 Shades of Grey trilogy made the top ten list of 2012′s most challenged titles.
Here is where you might stop me. “Chelsea,” you say, “It’s these religious fanatics [this is a public article, you can fill in your own colorful language here] who are challenging books. Without them, this wouldn’t be a problem!” And on the one hand, I’m inclined to agree that religious leanings might have something to do with inclination to ban a book. But I would say that’s because religious viewpoint also shapes ethical and moral viewpoint—not because society’s religious are leading the attack on the freedom to read. Don’t believe me? One of the most common reasons for book banning is “religious viewpoint,” and the Bible is one of the most frequently challenged materials in libraries.
According to the American Library Association, the most common initiators of book challenges are parents, and the most common settings for book challenges are schools, school libraries, and public libraries. In other words, we can assume that books are most frequently challenged by concerned parents, who believe materials are unsuitable for children or teens.
What I’m ultimately suggesting here is that banning books is not about institutions or religious or government conspiracy, as fun as conspiracy theories are. Banning books is about individuals who believe they have the right to decide how we think what we see, and especially about individuals who believe they are protecting our children by attempting to bar them from reading certain books. The power and danger in book banning lies in someone’s ability to think their opinion is the only one that matters, and, thereby, the only one that is allowed.
I think a lot of us want what’s best for children. But being able to decide for oneself the quality of someone else’s thoughts, and being able to use those skills to form your own opinions, is a skill best learned by reading. The ability to think critically is important, and books are the tools with which we whittle that ability. We can’t shield our children from racism or sexism, but we can teach them how to understand these issues more comprehensively.
I think most people can think of a book they wish they could ban from libraries, bookstores, or schools. There may be books out there that, frankly, should not have been published. I personally believe that Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a literary travesty, and that no reader should be subject to Rand’s impossible tirades. But that’s something you have to decide for yourself, no matter how painful the process might be.
The most banned book last year was Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series (presumably because it is very dangerous for children to know about underwear). But picture books, young adult fiction, and very adult fiction all made the top ten. I think it’s safe to say that there is truly no rhyme or reason to the materials that get challenged. Book banning isn’t about quality control; it’s about thought control. And that means I have to defend your right to read Captain Underpants with the same passion I defend your right to read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (a 2008 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten winner and frequently challenged title), and, yes, even The Fountainhead. Because in banning books we aren’t protecting anyone from anything, we are only oppressing them.
-Chelsea Condren, currently reading The Observations by Jane Harris
From Classic to Contemporary: Pride and Prejudice to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries… and eventually to Austenland
Classics — whether they are novels, plays, or epics — offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion… but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting-off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Pryde and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful… or maybe not.
The Classic: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
In one of the most quoted and famous novels of all time, Miss Elizabeth Bennet makes astute observations about the societal structures in place around her while simultaneously trying to avoid her mother’s attempts to marry her off to an appropriate man. While encouraging her elder sister’s romantic attachment to a very eligible bachelor, Lizzie meets his friend, Mr. Darcy, and the two immediately come to detest one another. Through a series of unfortunate interactions and the verbal machinations of others, Lizzie’s hatred for Darcy continues to deepen and when he unexpectedly proposes, she refuses. When her youngest sister, Lydia, elopes with a dashing, but devious soldier, Mr. Darcy covers the scandal and sees them properly wed. Upon these actions, Lizzie knows that Mr. Darcy truly must care for her and she must admit to her own growing feelings for him.
Contemporary #1: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Bernie Su and Hank Green’s modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice utilized the internet’s multi-media platforms in a ground-breaking way. Now concluded, viewers can visit the LBD webpage and view the story from the beginning, watching YouTube videos, following Twitter conversations and even visiting Tumblr along the way. As mentioned by Erin Daly in her post, “Three Unconventional Jane Austen Adaptations,” Su and Green’s Lizzie Bennet (played by Ashley Clements) was re-imagined as a graduate student and the middle daughter in a family ruled by a social-climbing, mostly well-meaning, matriarch. In the midst of obtaining her Masters in Communications, Lizzie sets out to film her diaries as a vlog project for school. Each of these five-minute videos was posted to YouTube, at a pace of two a week, and allowed viewers to dive right into Lizzie’s feelings about the people and events in her life.
Following the general story of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie and her two sisters, Jane (Laura Spencer) and Lydia (Mary Kate Wiles), meet Bing Lee and his family and their whole world gets turned upside down. Bing Lee (Christopher Sean), an aspiring medical student, falls in love with Jane, an aspiring fashion designer (you can see her fashion tumblr here) but his best friend, William Darcy (Daniel Vincent Gorth) ends up interfering and Jane’s left with a broken heart. Lizzie spends months becoming more and more distrustful towards Darcy, especially when the handsome swimmer George Wickham (Wes Aderhold) gets involved. When Darcy confesses his love to her, Lizzie cannot help but splutter in shock and staunchly refuse to have anything to do with him.
It’s not until Lizzie unwittingly takes an amazing internship at Darcy’s company, Pemberly Digital, that she gets to know his sister, Gigi (Allison Paige), his other best friend, Fitz (Craig Frank), and a new side to the somewhat dour-appearing William Darcy. Seeing Lizzie warm to Darcy, George Wickham, he seduces her younger sister, Lydia, and then attempts to humiliate her by posting a sex tape online. Thankfully, as in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is able to save the day, though in this modern adaptation, Lydia and George are not forced to marry. Almost one year after the original vlog entry is posted, Lizzie’s modernized story concludes with a rousing night celebrating with friends, family, and of course, her boyfriend… but not boss, Darcy. Through his actions to save Lydia, Lizzie is finally convinced that though it took her time to decipher her true feelings for him and he had plenty of trouble expressing them, Darcy’s feelings never wavered.
Ashley Clements’ portrayal of Lizzie Bennet brings just the right tone of sarcastic humor to this modernization. Her best friend, Charlotte (Julia Cho) is compassionate, intelligent, and skilled at handling difficult personalities, which at times can include Lizzie! Another shining star of this adaption is Lizzie’s younger sister, Lydia. The party girl not only creates her own vlog that showcases her fun, outgoing personality, but also evokes massive sympathy with a great performance as her life spirals out of control. The subplot dealing with Lydia’s scandal is actually one that could be ripped from today’s headlines, reminding viewers how relevant the original Austen tale still is in today’s society.
By allowing viewers to experience this timeless classic through various multimedia platforms, Su and Green tapped into a previously unimaginable way to participate in the story. Not only did the actors create the vlog “episodes” and post photos on tumblr or Twitter, but fans who were following the diaries in real time were able to actually interact with the characters, dispensing advice, asking questions, or commiserating as the occasion needed. As Austen is known for making astute observations about the societal expectations of her time, Su and Green endeavored to transform Lizzie’s story into a commentary on the Internet age. Pearls of wisdom like “the Internet is forever,” are sprinkled throughout the story. Real life wisdom, such as recognizing that anonymity on the internet can allow people to be more free with their callous comments or that people will start to disassociate your “online persona” from your true personage, ring utterly true with viewers. In fact, Bernie Su and Hank Green’s team won a 2013 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media, proving that even the media world recognized the amazing feat that was this new foray into contemporary storytelling.
With the success of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Su and Green have since reimagined Austen’s final, unfinished novel, Sanditon, by sending Gigi Darcy to the California beach town in Welcome to Sanditon. Next they are tackling, Emma Approved, a modernization of Austen’s Emma, and I cannot wait to participate as it unfolds, which should be starting in just a few short weeks!
My C2C partner-in-crime, Jessica Pryde, and I are also both stoked to go see another great modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that just hit movie theaters. Austenland, based on Shannon Hale’s novel of the same title, follows a young woman, obsessed with the fictional Mr. Darcy, as she spends travels to a themed-resort that recreates the Regency era in search of a man to match the ultimate standards that she sets… in other words, a man like Darcy.
- Jessica Miller, currently reading The Diviners by Libba Bray and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.
As usual, Twitter has been busy this week with YA related news, events, giveaways and more. Here are some of the highlights, in case you missed anything…
Contests and Giveaways
- THE PROMISE OF AMAZING, the sexy, funny, and poignant debut from @RConstantine14 is on Goodreads! Enter to win an ARC http://shrd.by/LSD2bg -@harperteen
- Greenglass House by Kate Milford Triple Awesomeness: Cover, excerpt and ARC giveaway: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2013/09/a-smugglerific-cover-excerpt-giveaway-greenglass-house-by-kate-milford.html …-@booksmugglers
- MT @kikihamilton: I’m having a 3 book giveaway for THE FAERIE RING series-chk it out: http://bit.ly/17ZBnat -@torteen
- It’s Live!!! Cover Reveal: Phoenix Island by @johndixonbooks + Giveaway (International) http://ow.ly/papr9 @simonteen @GalleryBooks-@yabookscentral
- Blog Tour: Doomed by Tracy Deebs +GIVEAWAY http://is.gd/yX5jX0 -@bookbrews
- t’s Live!!! Cover Reveal: Fragile Destiny by Suzanne Lazear + Giveaway – The Official YABC Blog http://ow.ly/pf3PU -@yabookscentral
- Lady Reader’s Bookstuff: BOOK BLITZ: WATERFELL by Amalie Howard Mega Giveaway #WATERFELL @AmalieHoward http://ladysbookstuff.blogspot.com/2013/09/book-blitz-waterfell-by-amalie-howard.html#.UkR1r7zUYkU.twitter …-@HarlequinTeen
- This week…THROUGH THE ZOMBIE GLASS by @GenaShowalter COUNTDOWN by @MichelleRowen WITCHSTRUCK by @VictoriaLamb1 ! Official shelf-day Tues!-@HarlequinTeen
- Fairy Tale Comics comes out TOMORROW! I did an interview with Stacked about my contribution: http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/09/guest-post-raina-telgemeier-on-fairy.html …-@goraina
- Happy #bookbirthday to NOT A DROP TO DRINK by @MindyMcGinnis! http://bit.ly/15Zo1e1 -@harperteen
- New post: INHERITANCE comes out today! http://www.malindalo.com/?p=8657 -@malindalo
- Everyone has secrets…until Wicket Tate exposes them. Watch the trailer for FIND ME by @romilybernard, on sale today! http://bit.ly/18QJKTj -@harperteen
- Happy book b-day to @malindalo‘s INHERITANCE and @sarahreesbrenna‘s UNTOLD!-@raecarson
- Congrats, my colleagues! RT @thatlauraruby: Happy book birthday to @anneursu‘s THE REAL BOY & @SwatiAvasthi‘s CHASING SHADOWS! #HamlineMFAC-@elockhart
- Happy book birthday to @CameronSharonE for A SPARK UNSEEN, the sequel to the fabulous THE DARK UNWINDING! *throws confetti*-@sarahbethdurst
- It’s finally here: A RADIANT SKY, the thrilling conclusion to @jocelyndavies‘ Beautiful Dark trilogy: http://shrd.by/oXCLSb -@harperteen
News and Events
Just For Fun
- Whitney Etchison, currently reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
History is ripe with stories of artists, musicians, performers, and other gifted geniuses whose lives were cut short. Nowhere is this more common than when we talk about great musicians. There are countless stories of talented musicians where we always wonder, what could they have achieved had their lives not ended in tragedy?
Music has always been important to me, but never so much as when I was in high school. Unlike a lot of my peers, I was not discovering new artists and musicians. Instead I delved back to times before I was even born and scoured my local library for CDs and books about musicians from the past. I used the expansive library collection of music, books, and movies about classic rock and pop musicians and bands to learn as much as I could. Unfortunately, a common theme with many of my favorite musicians from the past was their tragic life stories.
However, these life stories were always ones that made me more aware of the impact of our life choices. These stories also moved me to appreciate the talent of others when I see it, since you never know what turns life will bring. If you are interested in reading about musicians who were gone too soon, check out the list I have put together:
Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel (2011 Nonfiction Award winner)
Ann Angel examines the life and music of Janis Joplin, a rock singer who rose to fame in the sixties. Angel takes the reader through the ups and downs of Joplin’s life and gives an intimate look at her personality and the self destructive behavior that led to an early death due to heroin overdose at 27 years old.
Jaco: the Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius “The World’s Greatest Bass Player” by Bill Milkowski
Music writer Bill Milkowski, who personally knew Jaco Pastorius, gives us one of the definitive biographies of a talented jazz musician who just could not handle the genius he was given. Jaco revolutionized the jazz world with his masterful bass playing when he came on the scene in the seventies. However, once famous, Jaco’s addictions to drugs and alcohol ruined him and he was homeless and broke when he was “accidentally” beaten to death outside of a club.
Rave On: the Biography of Buddy Holly by Philip Norman
Perhaps thought of as one of the first great musicians to die tragically, the death of Buddy Holly had a huge impact on early rock and roll. Don Maclean immortalized the death of Buddy Holly and the two other musicians that died in a plane crash in 1959, in his song, “American Pie.” In Norman’s biography of Holly, he not only gives an account of the “nerdy” musician’s life but also a detailed account of his influence on rock and roll in its infancy.
Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley by David Browne
This novel gives a side-by-side look at a father and son, both gifted musicians and both whose lives ended tragically. Tim Buckley was a moderately successful singer/songwriter in the late sixties and early seventies, but his life ended with an accidental overdose in 1975. His son Jeff Buckley, only a young boy at the time of his father’s death, followed in his father’s footsteps and found success as a singer/songwriter in the early nineties. With a unique voice and a gift for songwriting, many fans were saddened by Jeff Buckley’s accidental death when he drowned in the Mississippi river.
The Lizard King: the essential Jim Morrison by Jerry Hopkins
This biography, by Jerry Hopkins, is the basis for Oliver Stone’s famous biopic of The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison. Hopkins looks at the life and music career of Morrison, depicting him as a talented but troubled musician. Morrison’s contributions to rock and roll are endless, especially to future frontmen, but there still remains some controversy as to the specific circumstances of his death by accidental heroin overdose at 27 years old.
Jimi Hendrix: Kiss the Sky by Edward Willett (a 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection)
Jimi Hendrix’s talent and impact on rock and roll was huge and can still be seen to this day in young and rising musicians. Chronicling the life of the guitarist that everyone aspires to be, Willet’s biography does an excellent job of portraying Hendrix’s life, from his early ancestors to his impactful performances and finally to his mysterious death at 27 years old.
This photobiography traces Lennon’s life from his birth to his untimely death, when he was murdered by Mark David Chapman outside of The Dakota building where he lived with Yoko Ono. Partridge provides quotes by Lennon to go along with expressive black and white portrait photos to provide the reader with an intimate look at the life and music of this Beatles frontman.
Last Train to Memphis: the rise of Elvis Presley (paired with) Careless Love: the unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
Elvis Presley was hailed as the King of Rock and Roll in his heyday. Peter Guralnick has written two excellent biographies of the King. One, Last Train to Memphis, focuses on the Presley’s early years from his rise to fame as a poor southern boy with a passion for blues and gospel songs to the height of his fame when he had the world at his fingertips. In his second volume, Careless Love, Guralnick looks at the last decades of Presley’s life, including his comeback and his untimely death due to years of drug abuse.
Journals by Kurt Cobain (a 2003 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection) and Cobain by the editors of Rolling Stone (a 1999 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults selection)
Both Journals and Cobain give readers an intimate look at the tortured soul that was Kurt Cobain. Rising to fame in the ’90s with the grunge band Nirvana, Cobain’s personal struggles could not be quelled by the immense success he found with his music, and he took his own life in 1994. Journals, released after his death, reproduce Cobain’s personal notebooks and contain notes, letters, drawings, and other writings by the Nirvana frontman. In Cobain, the editors of Rolling Stone magazine, compile photos and interviews that show Cobain’s personality as well as his and Nirvana’s contributions to music history.
Billie Holiday by Stuart Nicholson paired with Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford (a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults selection)
Stuart Nicholson’s biography of Billie Holiday, chronicles the life and impact of this famous jazz singer. Regarded as one of the great singers in history, Billie Holiday had a very hard life including troubles with prostitution, rape, time in jail, violence, and drug and alcohol use. All of this led to an untimely death due to liver and heart disease. Becoming Billie Holiday, is a fictional memoir written in verse, that gives a realistic portrayal of Holiday’s early life, and also shows how strong the singer was to overcome all the struggles of her life to achieve her dreams.
Moon: the Life and Death of a Rock Legend by Tony Fletcher
Keith Moon was the uber-talented drummer for The Who. He is said to have revolutionized the way drums were played when The Who gained fame in the sixties. Fletcher’s biography takes a look at the drummer’s life and contributions to music, and it also examines Moon’s excessive and self-destructive behavior that led to an early death as a result of an overdose of prescribed medication.
El Sid, Saint Vicious by David Dalton
Sid Vicious was the bassist in one of the most famous punk bands, The Sex Pistols. His life was filled with excess and controversy and mimicked the raucous music he produced with his bandmates. His tortured relationship with girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, is almost as famous as his time in The Sex Pistols. Mystery and controversy surrounds her death, as Vicious is believed to have murdered her but was never convicted and died from a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of 21.
Catch a Fire: the life of Bob Marley by Timothy White
Bob Marley brought reggae to the masses. Timothy White worked with Marley’s widow to provide an extensive biography of a musician, as well as a spiritual and political leader. Marley succumbed to cancer at the age of 36, and left behind a undeniable impression on fans of his music as well as those who were fans of his lifestyle.
To Selena, With Love by Chris Perez
Selena was an adored and accomplished singer/songwriter when she died tragically at the hands of Yolanda Saldívar. Her career and music were an inspiration to many, and even though her death was gruesome, her life remains the focus of Selena’s fans. In this biography, Selena’s husband, Chris Perez recounts many happy memories of the singer as well as a firsthand account of her life and the circumstances of her death.
-Colleen Seisser, currently reading The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Libra, this is an extra special time for you. Not only is it the time of year we celebrate your harmonious and joyful nature, but we also celebrate Banned Books Week. And who would be better ambassadors for the freedom to read than the ultimate truth seekers and peacekeepers? Here are two books that highlight some of your better qualities, Libra– and have also been recently challenged or banned.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2008 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)
#2 on the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Frequently Challenged Books of 2012 list, Alexie’s coming-of-age story is often challenged for offensive language, explicit sexual content, racist language and being unsuited to the age group. Junior is a young cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation when he makes the difficult choice to attend a school off the reservation with a mostly white student population. Illustrated by Ellen Forney, Junior’s story is filled with humor, triumph, adversity and tragedy. Despite winning numerous awards and accolades, Alexie’s book is still frequently challenged or banned in schools nationwide.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2004 Alex Award)
The subject of a recent challenge in Chicago Public Schools, Persepolis is Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the war with Iraq. Powerful and unforgettable, Satrapi shows what daily life was like in a country in the throws of a political and cultural revolution. Graphic depictions of torture and oppression lead to concerns of students’ “developmental preparedness.” The book was eventually retained in CPS but not until after a huge outcry from students, parents, teachers and the community over the importance students having access to this important work.
Challenging and banning books is not something that happens in other places or in different times. Today many work are still being challenged or banned. As professionals and readers of young adult literature it is important that we continue advocating for our readers to make sure that every one has access to books that speak to their experience or to their further exploration of our world and what it means to be human.
Libras, you are so in touch with justice, balance and knowledge, that there is no doubt Banned Books Week is an important celebration for you as well.
-Amanda Margis, currently reading Interstellar Pig by William Sleator and listening to It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller.
Cherry shrugs off her bad grades, scary reputation, and any aspirations beyond life in a trailer park. She’s good with “Work hard, get paid” as a central tenet of personal dignity. Lust for riches is not her thing at all. In fact, screw rich people.
One day, as Cherry is working at Burrito Barn, a group of well-heeled strangers stop in for lunch. One of the beautiful girls starts choking, and quick-thinking Cherry performs the Heimlich maneuver. saving her life. The girl, actress Ardelia Deen is so grateful to Cherry that they start to hang out. After that, Cherry’s life heads in a direction that she never thought she wanted.
The song, Royals by Lorde, speaks of a contentment that belies wealth and status. She sings:
My friends and I we’ve cracked the code
We count our dollars on the train to the party
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re fine with this, we didn’t come from money
“Lorde” is the stage name of sixteen year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor from Auckland, New Zealand. Dubbed the “queen of nouveau pop” by MTV, Lorde combines catchy melodies with an offbeat, soulful delivery.
But don’t take my word for it….
-Diane Colson, currently reading VIII by H. M. Castor, and listening to Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman, narrated by Cassandra Campbell
We first meet nine-year-old Tiffany Aching during a confrontation between our heroine and a rather distressing river monster named Jenny Green-Teeth. She consults a book- something many librarian readers of this blog would likely approve of- and uses her younger brother as bait- something many would not approve of, but still ends up being clever nonetheless- and, armed with nothing more than this knowledge and a frying pan (cast iron, the kind anathema to most fairy folk) manages to wallop Jenny clear out of the neighborhood.
Thus is our introduction to Tiffany Aching, witch-in-training and star of a young adult Discworld series by the hilarious and heartbreaking writer Terry Pratchett, winner of the 2011 Margaret A. Edwards Award for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
Today, I’m focusing on the first two books of this series, The Wee Free Men (a YALSA’s Ultimate Teen Bookshelf selection) and A Hat Full of Sky (a 2005 Best Books for Young Adults selection), during which Tiffany is nine and eleven years old, respectively. Tiffany is not your ordinary witch, nor your ordinary fantasy heroine; her family is a shepherd family on the Chalk, humble farmlands far from wizarding academies, courtly intrigue, or anything resembling a modern sewer system. She is not adept at flashy displays of magic (though she has quite a knack for churning butter and making cheese) and even notes that none of the girls in fairy tales, whether witch or princess, look very much like Tiffany at all.
The trick about being a witch in Discworld is knowing when not to use magic at all, especially if common sense and a little bit of elbow grease will solve your problem instead. Being a witch is unglamorous and under-appreciated work that more often than not gets you tossed into lakes or worse. What spurs Tiffany toward witchcraft is this very attitude of mob-and-pitchforking first, asking questions never, that turns the people of the Chalk against an innocent woman accused of kidnapping and killing a noble’s son. They kill her cat, burn her house down, and (it’s heavily implied) let her starve to death in the winter. When another character asks why Tiffany still wants to be a witch, given what happened to the poor old woman, she simply replies: “So that sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”
In this world, magic has a lot less to do with unimaginable power and social status than it does with taking responsibility for the lives around you. We meet Granny Aching, the late matriarch of Tiffany’s family and the last witch who lived on the Chalk, through flashbacks and musings in Tiffany’s mind. Granny Aching’s magic had everything to do with knowing how to find lambs lost in the snow and how to save sick ewes before they gave birth, and even as uneducated and poor as she had been (as most Achings were) she still belonged to the land and the land remembered her after death. This is what Tiffany aspires to; not power, not romance, not even adventure and daring-do. Those things are unimportant, even boring, in the face of everyday life and duty to the land.
Which is not to say Tiffany doesn’t go on exciting adventures and experience mortal peril every two years or so (which is the amount of time that elapses between each book). In the first book of the series, Tiffany finds herself with only her wits and a clan of tiny and disorderly Nac Mac Feegle- the eponymous Wee Free Men- against the Queen of Fairyland. (Fairyland, by the way, is a lot less Tinkerbell and a lot more horrific and nightmarish. You don’t really want to get involved with fairies if you can help it.)
In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany has begun proper witch training; that is, she’s indentured with several established witches who have her help out around the house when she’s not accompanying them on their rounds throughout the village. (It’s a very “wax on, wax off” style of education, only Tiffany has to teach herself karate while Mr. Miyagi wears a pointy hat and is only tangentially important to the plot.) This time our villain is a rather terrifying non-corporeal monster who burns through human hosts, collects their souls, and, guess what, has its eyes on Tiffany.
Throughout these first two books, the greatest asset Tiffany has is, quite literally, herself. If she makes a mistake, it’s her responsibility to face the consequences. If the people and animals under her care are at risk, she has a duty to set things right. What makes Tiffany such a strong character- and, I believe, a powerful role model for girls and young women- is that her strength doesn’t come from a privileged birthright or from being an extra special snowflake upon which the very destiny of all the worlds sits. Tiffany is just a girl who tends sheep and likes to make cheese, and she doesn’t like it when people cause trouble for her family. She is a witch because someone has to be, and she has the power to face down dire threats because they need facing down. It’s not that she doesn’t experience setbacks, peer pressure, or- in later books- teenage romances; it’s that there is so much more at stake, and so much more to Tiffany, than any of these things.
Just by virtue of being herself, Tiffany is strong enough, brave enough, and good enough for the job at hand.
“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.”
“Why?” said Tiffany.
“There’s no one to stop them.”
There was silence for a moment.
Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”
-Ellen MacInnis, currently reading Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15-October 15, and while I think it’s important to read and discuss a diverse selection of books year round, celebration months are a great time to spotlight these type of collections, so I wanted to highlight a list of titles that feature Hispanic characters and/or are written by Hispanic authors.
Sometimes, it’s not immediately obvious that Hispanic culture is featured in the book. I was pleasantly surprised when I read Sarah Ockler’s most recent release, The Book of Broken Hearts, and discovered it was a rich, layered story about a family that immigrated from Argentina to the United States. The book is peppered with Spanish language and cultural references, and I guarantee you’ll be craving empanadas while reading it.
There are many fantastic novels about the immigrant experience of people from Hispanic backgrounds living in the United States, but Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to explore the stories of Latin Americans as well. The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango is based on the true story of an indigenous girl who becomes an indentured servant to a wealthy Mestizo family in Ecuador, and is a moving tale of a girl’s journey to self-discovery.
In addition to books about Hispanic culture, Hispanic Heritage Month is a great time to spotlight books that are translated from Spanish. Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Ábalos is set in medieval France about a boy set on a journey when he discovers a magical stone and is drawn into a plot that features the Knights Templar.
Several novels by Hispanic authors contain elements of magical realism. The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina features young love and a strong-willed heroine, and The Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is an Odyssey-like story of sisters whose adventures force them to face a warlock, a half-human barn owl, and chupacabras.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, with its many awards, including
2013′s Stonewall Book Award, Printz Honor, Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten, and Pura Belpre Author Award, is an obvious choice, but a well-deserved addition to the list. This story of Mexican-American teenagers finding friendship and love is fantastic, but Sáenz’s other books are worth checking out as well. Last Night I Sang to the Monster is a moving story of mental illness from a teen’s perspective and included on YALSA’s 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list.
Additional YA titles worth checking out include:
- Behind the Eyes by Francisco X. Stork
- Muchacho by LouAnne Johnson
- La Linea by Ann Jaramillo
- Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs
- In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
- Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
- Romiette & Julio by Sharon Draper
There is also a great selection of middle grade fiction by Hispanic authors as well as some notable poetry collections, and this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather an attempt to highlight some titles or serve as an introduction to the wealth of literature written by Hispanic authors about Hispanic characters. For more reviews and excellent resource on Latin American Literature, check out Vamos a Leer, the blog of the the Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII) at the University of New Mexico. In addition to reviews, they provide educator guides and excellent programming ideas related to Hispanic literature. YALSA also has a list of recommended titles that reflect the diversity of Hispanic culture, which can be found here. Hannah Gómez also wrote a post on the Mexican-American identity in YA lit earlier this year that also features some great young adult fiction.
Do you have a favorite Hispanic author? What other books feature Hispanic characters? Feel free to share in the comments.
-Molly Wetta, currently listening to Sabriel by Garth Nix, read by Tim Curry
My sister and I were trying to plan our weekend. After a texting spree that reminded us why we had an unlimited messaging plan, we still had some details to figure out. I suppose we could have just called each other, but personally I love to text and chat, or both simultaneously. I started thinking why text, tweets and IMs aren’t a more common form of communication in books when they are main way I converse in real life. People do so much online these days that we have whole websites like Autocowrecks that revel in the hilarity of auto-correct trying to tell us what we mean. With whole Twitter and tumblr hashtags devoted to texting mistakes, it seems that online conversations are the preferred way to talk. I was inspired by two previous Hub posts about novels that use letters and emails to tell a story. Check out Epistolary Novels, Old and New by Hannah Gomez and Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: A Love Letter to the Un-Epistolary Novel by Wendy Daughdrill– and here’s my list of YA books that tell a story with the help of texts, IMs, and other forms of digital communication.
- The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (a 2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults nomination) – Friends discover their future Facebook pages when they get their first computer in 1996.
- Fangirl by Ken Baker – Josie Brant has a crush on musician Peter. An amazing turn of luck allows them to meet, which leads to a romance relayed by tweets and IMs.
- iDrakula and iFrankenstein by Bekka Black – After contracting a blood borne illness, John and his pre-med girlfriend try to find a cure in this modern horror that uses emails, text messages, web pages, Twitter feeds, and instant messaging.
- Text Game by Kate Cann – Text messages tell Mel her boyfriend boyfriend Ben is cheating.
- Sister Mischief by Laura Goode - Esme Rockett’s slang heavy text messages and journaling follow her musical musings.
- Bad Kitty and Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (a 2007 Teens’ Top Ten selection) – Footnotes, email and instant messaging tell the story of cool and catty Jasmine whose posh life is regularly interrupted with improbable mysteries. Use HarperTeen Browse Inside to read the begining of this novel online.
- WTF by Peter Lerangis – Told in the span of 24 hours, a wild time in NYC is narrated with colorful, slang laden dialog, much of it via text messaging.
- The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan – With dictionary entries instead of a linear plot, a love story unfolds. Though the printed book doesn’t use social media, readers who find the ending inconclusive will appreciate the Twitter feed @loversdiction which promises “These are not from the book, but tease to it.”
- TTFN, TTYL and L8R,G8R by Lauren Myracle – This trilogy of novels is told entirely through instant messenger conversions. Meet high school students Zoe, Maddie, and Angela who’s online rants about boys and family are fueled by technology.
- Tweet Heart: a Novel in E-mails, Blogs, and Tweets By Elizabeth Rudnick – The incredibly accurate title is spot on, the book looks like screen shots from facebook and other online sources. It even has wallpaper and avatars.
- Heart on my Sleeve by Ellen Wittlinger - Chloe and Julian use letters, e-mails, and instant messages to keep in touch and tackle challenges to their friendship.
Have you ever laughed so hard that snot came out of your nose? I read When Parents Text: So Much Said . . . So Little Understood by Lauren Kaelin (a 2012 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers selection), or at least I tried. I had to keep stopping to blow my nose because I was laughing so hard. I had to explain to people nearby what on earth I was reading, and once they got the idea, it was just faster to read the posts out loud to each other. You’ll probably find this hilarious book in the non-fiction section, or maybe in the adult department.
When I first starting working on my post I had query my fellow Hub bloggers for book questions. I think a few years from now more authors will go the route of Lauren Myracle’s novels and give us a story told entirely from digital content. Until then, I hope you enjoy the booklist of stories told partially with texts and IMs.-Laura C Perenic, currently reading Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Good morning, Hub readers!
Last week we wanted to know about your favorite female friendship in YA lit. Maddie and “Verity,” the sensational team from Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, took the lead with 44% of the vote. Ann Brashare’s four-way friendship from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget, gathered 35% of the vote, taking second place, and Betsy and Tacy from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series came in third with 12%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!
Now that we’ve explored female friendships in YA lit, let’s give the guys some attention. What’s the best YA lit bromance? Vote in the poll below or let us know who we missed in the comments!Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
The teenage rebel has become a treasured image in American culture. In fact, phrases like “pushing boundaries” and “classic teenage rebellion” frequently worm their way into conversations about adolescents. Now, I generally don’t put any stock in the accuracy of stereotypes, especially about stereotypes about teenagers. However, every nostalgic conversation among my colleagues or friends includes confessions from each individual’s brief past as a teenage rebel. Whether it’s skipping school, sneaking out to a party, or simply dressing as bizarrely as possible, practically everyone has a memory of teenage rule-breaking–or at least rule-bending. Even I clearly recall my version of teenage rebellion–perhaps because the experience helped shape my current career.
Like many strange and wonderful stories, this one begins in eighth grade English class. The curriculum included To Kill A Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451–two novels that frequently feature in school assignments and lists of American classics. Both titles also regularly appear on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books list compiled by the American Library Association. I can’t recall if we discussed book banning and challenges during our study of To Kill A Mockingbird, but the subject obviously came up during of our reading of Fahrenheit 451. Being a passionate reader, the situation described in Fahrenheit 451–a future where books have become illegal and book burning is the specialty of firemen–was my worst nightmare. Books were my escape, my dearest companions and my guides. The thought of outlawing books was unthinkably horrific–especially when I learned that book banning was still a reality here in the U.S.
I recall becoming particularly obsessed with a portion of Ray Bradbury’s “Coda” to the novel; the page in the back of my skinny paperback is creased from re-reading. He succinctly summarizes the events leading up the novel’s reality: “books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shuts and the libraries closed forever” (177). While I learned a great deal in U.S. History class that year, it was Ray Bradbury’s image of empty and abandoned libraries that pushed me to think about the First Amendment on a more concrete level. How does the protection of free speech play out in real life? How slippery is the slope separating a small group’s objection and removal of a book to the book-burning police state imagined in Bradbury’s novel? I didn’t necessarily have answers yet but the questions stuck with me, simmering in the back of my mind.
During my sophomore year, a new librarian arrived, promptly formed our first student library advisory board, and introduced Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week quickly became one of my favorite annual events. Over the next few years, we ran activities ranging from the creation of posters focused on banned or challenged books to an all-night readathon to a showing of the film Pleasantville.
But through our discussions and event planning, my interest in intellectual freedom issues expanded beyond the personal outrage of a bibliophile. Reading through the book challenge lists during our early September meetings, I was shocked to see not only controversial classics like To Kill A Mockingbird or Fahrenheit 451 but also some of my recent favorites, like 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet and the Harry Potter series. I learned about the history of book banning and read the rationales behind contemporary challenges. I began to notice trends among the books challenged or banned. For example, the yearly frequently challenged books list compiled by the ALA regularly includes an overwhelming number of children’s and young adult books and a large number of the challenges recorded take place at schools or in the youth services’ departments of public libraries. People seemed particularly interested in controlling which books I, as a teenager, could read. And while I might be willing to go along with curfews, homework requirements, and the school dress code, I was definitely not willing to follow rules dictating my choice of reading material.
Moreover, our celebrations of Banned Books Week demonstrated the power, value, and impact of literature in ways that neither my book obsession nor beloved English classes could. I had known that books were valuable to me as an individual for years, but it was through Banned Books Week that I came to understand the power books could wield in the larger world. Books are banned or challenged because they are powerful. The right novel can allow the voiceless of our society to be heard. Stories give each of us the ability to, in the words of Atticus Finch, walk around in someone else’s skin for a while. Books challenge stereotypes & systems; they force us to confront our blind spots & prejudices. They can save lives and spark revolutions. Books can honestly change the world–but only if they remain available to the readers who need them.
While my teenage rebellion might appear a bit tame, my small role in the fight to defend intellectual freedom set a fire in me that hasn’t gone out. Planning Banned Books Week events, I felt empowered by the opportunity to work alongside my peers and librarians to promote our equal rights to read freely. I experienced the excitement of involvement with a cause and gained a fuller understanding of literature’s complex power. So as I entered my final year of college and tried to sort out a career path, my high school library experiences–especially our thrilling Banned Book Weeks–drifted to the front of my mind. It seemed too good to be true that I might be able to recapture that joy and sense of purpose in a job. But I decided to give it a shot anyway–and happily, the rest is history.
How has Banned Books Week affected you? What memories or experiences have shaped your ideas about censorship and intellectual freedom?
-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
September 22nd is Elephant Appreciation Day, and since an elephant never forgets, I thought this might be a great opportunity to share those books we’ll never forget.
Everyone has at least one. They aren’t necessarily the best books ever written. They aren’t necessarily the deepest or the most popular. But they’re books that made an indelible mark on us in some way, the ones that we thought about for days after we finished reading them- ones that we’ve read more than once- the ones that we recommend because they are dear to our hearts and we want them to be near and dear to someone else’s heart, too. So here’s my list, and I hope in the comments you’ll add a few of yours.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - Kid’s stuff, I hear you say, but the relationships in this book are complex, and it was only after rereading it as a young adult that I truly understood the depth of Mr. Craven’s heartache and the loneliness of his son, Colin. The wisdom of Ben Weatherstaff was lost on me as a kid, as it was often lost on Mary, but as a young adult I saw it in a whole new light. Dickon’s gentleness and love of all creatures is just as enchanting as it ever was. I still have my first copy of this on my book shelf at home- the front cover is torn and the spine is almost illegible due to the creases left from my repeated re-readings. This one’s a classic for a reason!
The Ruby in the Smoke by Phillip Pullman - Sure, it’s common now for books to take place during Victorian times because of the whole Steampunk genre, but back when I was a teen Steampunk wasn’t the thing it is now so a book set in Victorian times was a little… well, to me it was weird. I wasn’t sure that my mom was right that I’d find anything interesting about a book that took place ‘in olden times.’ The saying is true, and mother knew best. To this day I credit Pullman with getting me interested in mysteries through his use of a bygone era and characters I could relate to even though they lived a hundred years before me. I often recommend this one to teens looking for a mystery. Sally Lockhart was exactly the kind of girl I wanted to be- interesting, curious, fearless- a Nancy Drew with a much bigger sense of danger and of awe.
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, a 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten selection, was so good I started reading it again immediately upon completion. It sucked me in and I read like a fiend to finish it only to want to finish it again. Morgan Matson’s weaving of tragedy and romance and discovery was just done beautifully. I’ve repeatedly recommended it to people, I’ve mentioned it in this blog before, I’ve featured it in book clubs, and I have been known to skip over my “to-read” pile to re-read it again. The fact that they start driving across the country together as almost total strangers and become more than just friends by the end of their journey is so romantic, and the self discovery and growth they experience together is so moving, that this book really needs repeated readings to get everything out of it.
Forever… by July Blume I didn’t read as a teen. In fact, I didn’t get to it until after I’d gotten my Master’s degree. But I wish I had read it as a teen! I can remember what it was like to have no ideas about sex and relationships, and no idea what to even ask about even if I’d had the nerve to ask. Forever, which frequently appears on lists of challenged and banned books, was straightforward and unashamed, something that I could have used as a teen. Every generation it’s updated with a new cover and forward and then re-released, and with good reason. I remember sitting at my desk and reading it and thinking, “I wish I’d read this in high school!” and I’m glad that it’s one of those books that keeps going strong year after year.
Here’s where I date myself a little… because there’s a whole series of books that I could never forget, and even though they weren’t well written and aren’t even available outside of eBay these days, I still love them. New Kids on the Block novels were pure pleasure reading when I was twelve, and I still have a few because I can’t bear to part with them even when I don’t really have room for them. I just loved how easy and fun they were to read, and they stick out in my head more than most of the books I read as a teen. At a time when I was reading George Orwell and Jules Verne for school, I couldn’t wait to get home and get back to reading for fun. The enjoyment I had while reading these is memorable on its own, even if now I cringe when I see all the grammatical errors and laugh at the plot holes!
Now it’s your turn! What books made their mark on you? What title still makes you laugh or cry?
-Carla Land, currently reading The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner
Here’s some news you might have missed this week.
- @catagator: September is loaded with debut YA novels — and here’s the roundup http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/09/september-debut-ya-novels.html …
- @sljournal: From the Notorious to the Notable | Nonfiction Notes, September 2013 http://ow.ly/oOo5i
- @kamigarcia: Candice Accola Records ‘Unbreakable’ Audiobook via @JustJaredJr… http://fb.me/3muuoDNcJ
- @earlyword: Just posted on Edelweiss a collection of titles discussed during the last two YA GalleyChats — http://bit.ly/185qzbr #ewyagc
- @nancyrosep: This is a great list of YA titles — go NYPL! Identity Crisis: A Booklist For Teens http://on.nypl.org/167sYV2
Book Trailers and Chapters:
- @RandomBuzzers: Watch the full trailer for THE EYE OF MINDS by @jamesdashner. Get ready. http://ow.ly/oZU2r
- @HarlequinTeen: TAKE A TASTE! Check out these EXCLUSIVE chapter samplers from some of our hottest TEEN books! Start reading NOW> http://bit.ly/13KTM78
- @harperteen: Exclusive! Watch the book trailer for HOW TO LOVE by @katiecotugno —> http://shrd.by/82qWx0 via @EW
- @MundieKids: Read the first two chapters of @SW_Messenger‘s EXILE via @SimonKIDShttp://www.mundiekids.blogspot.com/2013/09/read-1st-two-chapters-of-exile-by.html?m=1 …
- @DisneyHyperion: There was a collective shudder when we watching this #Lockwood trailer in a staff meeting. Which part creeps you out? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVq4IYK36IM …
- @RandomBuzzers: AHH. RT @LaurenKatebooks Have you seen the sexy sexy sexy #teardrop trailer??? EXCLUSIVE on @EW: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2013/09/17/lauren-kate-teardrop-trailer-exclusive/ …
- @TheHungerGames: It’s official! Please welcome Patina Miller as Commander Paylor to the cast of @TheHungerGames: Mockingjay Parts 1&2 pic.twitter.com/e0asrY9Cdh
- @PWKidsBookshelf: The Inside Story of How Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara Defied Skeptics & Personally Wooed J.K. Rowling | THR http://pwne.ws/19eczZX
- @PWKidsBookshelf: Daniel Radcliffe won’t appear in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts saga http://pwne.ws/152xcwx
- @TLT16: 5 fall shows teens are talking about (me: I can’t wait until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2013/09/take-5-5-tv-shows-teens-are-talking.html?m=1 …
- @PWKidsBookshelf: RT @YAFicsFlicks John Green (@realjohngreen) is filming his cameo in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS movie today!!! http://exm.nr/1eLpQS8
- @simonteen: Want to land an epic 28-book prize pack? Enter the #AliceMcKinley sweepstakes for a chance to win the entire series! http://bit.ly/1diih3H
- @realjohngreen: You can win a trip to visit the #tfiosmovie set! (Really.) Enter here: http://www.teen.com/Tfios
- @MacKidsBooks: Booksellers, teachers, and librarians, do you want to host an authorless #fiercereads event? You can request a kit: http://ow.ly/oQMzA
Just for Fun:
- @this_is_teen: Who’s your favorite literary mean girl? 10 mean girls in literature (via @HuffPostBooks) http://huff.to/1gy027I
- @EpicReads: Find out your #YACharacterName here ––> http://bit.ly/18bpPzI
- @Somers_Library: Five Delightfully Surprisingly Bookish Songs http://bookriot.com/2013/09/18/five-delightfully-surprisingly-bookish-songs/ …
- @MirandaKennealy: Oh! I had a great idea today. A YA author season of Survivor! 16 authors must survive on a deserted island…and still make their deadlines!
- @gcaserotti: How to Get Started with 3D Printing (Without Spending a Fortune) ping @meganegbert @nickgrove15 http://lifehacker.com/how-to-get-started-with-3d-printing-without-spending-a-1340345210 …
- @catagator: Don’t know about the Meg Medina story? Here you go: http://megmedina.com/2013/09/04/author-uninvited-a-school-decides-im-trouble/ …
- @catagator: Literary inspirations — YA books where the teen character admires another character in literature http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/09/literary-inspirations-ya-characters.html …
- @catagator: If you’re so moved, you can read my piece against “boy books” and “girl books” over at the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-jensen/books-for-boys-and-books-_b_3935106.html?utm_hp_ref=tw …
- @jenbigheart: Paper & program proposals open for @yalsa‘s 2014 YA Literature Symposium, October 31 – November 2, 2014 in Austin, TX http://yalitsymposium12.ning.com/page/programproposals …
- @sljournal: Give Children a Choice: Advocating Open Access to Materials | Scales on #Censorshiphttp://ow.ly/oVSdr
- @sljournal: Resources for Finding Latino Kid Lit http://ow.ly/oUqWk Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month
~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading United We Spy by Ally Carter
Avast there, ya scallywags! It be Talk Like a Pirate Day, dontcha know? Are ye speaking all piratical this day?
Pirates certainly capture our imaginations. Real pirates were, and are, terrible people, wreaking havoc and killing innocents. But from what may have been the first “pop culture pirate” Long John Silver, to Bluebeard (A terrible human being– but wearing lit candles in your beard? C’mon, that’s cool!), to the dread pirate Roberts (who never did kill Westley in the morning), to everyone’s current favorite Halloween costume, Captain Jack Sparrow, pirates in popular culture are generally thought of as dashing, daring rogues.
Talk Like a Pirate Day is a holiday started casually by two friends in 1995. It got a major publicity boost in 2002 when humorist Dave Barry wrote a column about it, and it has been growing strong ever since. The holiday is silly and cheerful (and probably inspired by Captain Morgan more than any other pirate) and to take part, simply do what it is called: talk like a pirate. If you need help, the Talk Like a Pirate Day website has some lessons; also Mango Language Learning software has a “pirate” option; and if you want to take a more casual approach, just translate your Facebook page or Google search results into “pirate.” To get deeper into a proper piratical mood, here are several great pirate reads.
Now get yerself reading, matey, or it’ll be the plank for ye!
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The granddaddy of all piratical reads. Young Jim Hawkins owns a treasure map, but the band of men who travel with him to “help” find the treasure are not trustworthy at all. The one-legged ship’s cook turns out to be pirate leader Long John Silver, and his relationship with Jim is complex and fascinating: parental one moment, violently dangerous the next. There’s a reason this book is a classic.
Grania: She King of the Irish Seas by Morgan Llywelyn
Grace O’Malley would have been an extraordinary woman at any point in time. She built her family business up to the biggest and best in the country. The leader of the free world was her enemy, but also grudgingly admired her strength. The fact that O’Malley was the pirate queen of Ireland in the sixteenth century, and was frenemies with Queen Elizabeth I, just makes her all the more extraordinary. Llywelyn’s novel is based on O’Malley’s real, and amazing, life.
Pirates on Dinosaur Island by Mark Edwards
A doctor must flee England after being involved in a deadly duel. His ship is attacked by pirates, and, wounded in the battle, he reluctantly joins them as ship’s doctor, rather than be killed. All this swashbuckling is adventurous enough, but things really become intense when a storm causes the pirate ship to be wrecked near a tropical island where there are enormous, strange, reptilian-like beasts. A slim book packed with pulpy adventure.
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Yes, the main narrative involves a young man who works on a hydrogen powered airship, and who gets involved with a young girl whose grandfather knew about mysterious, other-worldly creatures who inhabit the skies. And there is adventure and mystery and fantastical beings. But honestly? All you need to know about this book are two words: sky pirates.
Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer
A 2009 Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults selection and the most piratical of “Bloody Jack” Jacky Faber’s adventures, this book sees our teenage heroine being press-ganged onto a British warship, and finding herself under the thumb of a tyrannical captain with a mutinous crew. She cleverly turns the tables on the captain, and ends up in command of the ship! While this may be the most pirate-heavy book in the Bloody Jack series, and thus worthy of a place on this list, it behooves you, dear reader, to read the first two books in order to completely appreciate this third.
On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers
No matter your opinion on the fourth movie in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, the book it was based on is better. John Shandy, a puppeteer turned pirate, seeks adventure, revenge, and true love amidst battles, voodoo, ghosts, and something that may indeed be the Fountain of Youth. The sea battles are so vivid your ears will be ringing and the supernatural forces seem so real, your skin will crawl. No wonder Powers has won the World Fantasy Award multiple times.
-Geri Diorio, currently reading Halfway to Hollywood by Michael Palin
Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
One of the first names that came to mind when I was concocting this interview series was Charles de Lint, probably because (in addition to being one of my favorite writers of all time) back when I was a teen myself, his books sort of saved me. I was still in high school but not living at home when I stumbled across Moonheart, then his stories in the Bordertown anthologies, Greenmantle and Yarrow, and the two books that became Jack of Kinrowan, and those stories opened new worlds to me, new ways of thinking, in the way really extraordinary books are wont to do. Few authors have been as formative for me, both as a reader (my devotion to mythic fiction and urban fantasy post-Moonheart has never wavered) and as a human being, as Charles de Lint. The ideas I found on the streets of Newford resonated profoundly and I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that they not only guided me through some rough times, but introduced me to concepts that still influence me today.
Which is all to say that conducting this interview was a real privilege. True to form, Charles’ answers are thoughtful and thought-provoking, so I hope you’ll load up one of the demo songs on his website if you don’t have his Old Blue Truck album already, and settle in for a grand read. Thank you, Charles, for taking the time to talk with me, and for your honest, insightful, and generous answers.Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
I was a misfit, but I think most teenagers feel that way. I don’t care if you were a popular jock or the kid who spent his lunch hours in a stairwell reading a book, we all seem to have dealt with insecurities of one kind or another throughout our high school years.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
The first thing I can remember wanting to be (after the usual cowboy, fireman, etc., when I was quite small) was the person who collected animals for zoos. This came from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and the books that followed that autobiography. The desire lasted only until I realized that animals were being pulled out of their natural habitats and stuck in cages to be peered at and prodded by people. Now, granted, Durrell went on to do excellent work in the preservation of endangered animals with his own zoo, but for me, the shine was pretty well off by that point.
In my early teens I knew what I wanted to be was a musician, and from the time I was fifteen I went on to teach myself how to play numerous instruments, then began playing with other people, eventually getting gigs and the like.
At the same time I was writing constantly—mostly poetry ranging from the sort of bastard Middle English that William Morris wrote, through free-verse beat poetry, to songs, rhyming verse and haiku.
Back then I never even considered writing a career option. I just liked the play of words. I was certainly interested in story, but the stories I was telling then were in narrative verse and prose poems, short and succinct, except for one novel-length poem written in narrative couplets.
What were your high school years like? What were you doing during those years?
Let me give you a bit of context. I’d spent my early childhood moving around with my family because of my father’s job, so school had always been difficult for me because I’d pretty much always been the new kid and a bit of a loner. When I reached my teens, my family had settled in Lucerne, Quebec, a rural area not too far from Ottawa, where I now live. I went to the local English high school, but I never liked it.
I realize this is the sort of thing that parents and teachers don’t like to hear, but you did ask. I felt different from most of the other kids there and the curriculum bored me. Halfway through I quit, left home and lived on the streets, making a living busking and panhandling. By the time I did return to home and school, my dislike of school was even stronger. I generally ignored the curriculum and most of my fellow students, skipped a lot of classes and instead spent my time reading, writing and playing music, which didn’t go over well with school officials. So, rather than finish high school, I left again and ended up getting some temporary office placements—that was a lot easier in the late sixties/early seventies than it is now—until I got my dream job, which was working in a record shop. Suddenly I was surrounded by music and by people who shared that same enthusiasm for it.
What were some of your passions during that time?
My hobbies were reading, playing music, writing poetry and songs, and writing to penpals (this was pre-Internet, so that was how you “met” other people in different parts of the world).
I mucked around a bit with the usual sports like baseball and football, but I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. I always enjoyed a pick-up game more than something organized like the Little League. But I got a lot of exercise because in that rural area where we lived, I spent literally whole days (and often part of the night) out wandering in the fields and forests around our house with the small pack of dogs we had at the time.
Books and music saved me as a teenager because it was through them that I realized that I wasn’t alone in my obsessive love for words and music. I read a lot of poetry—the beats were my favorites, but I also liked Wordsworth, Frost, ee cummings, Whitman, and the like. I also loved the lyrics of contemporary (at the time) songs—the ones that had meat or simply a lyrical beauty by artists such as Donovan, Bob Dylan, the Incredible String Band, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tim Hardin, Tom Rapp, and Leonard Cohen.
I read a lot of fiction and books on mythology and folklore, but my memory gets hazy when I try to remember what I was reading at any particular time. I know it wasn’t any one sort of book. I appreciated most of the genres, though mostly books by the classic fantasists. Tolkien, of course, but also William Morris, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, James Branch Cabell… the authors of stories that awoke and fueled my sense of wonder.
I also read a lot of non-fiction. Thoreau. Gary Snyder. Colin Wilson. Mysteries, the pulps, spy novels, westerns. Reading Louis L’Amour made me fall in love with the Southwest and the badlands before I ever travelled to either.
Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
Living on the street as a kid changed the way I looked at everything. It was a different time and while it had its dangers, it was nothing like it would be today. It was the Summer of Love and there was a real sense of community among us. We were hippies who looked out for each other instead of trying to rip each other off. We only had to watch out for the police who liked to roust us just on general principles, and the kids who came in from the suburbs to do a little hippie-bashing.
I can’t walk by a homeless person or panhandler today without knowing that a) they don’t want to be there, and b) they’re people and they each have a story. I’m not saying that they’re necessarily good people. I’m saying they’re individuals. Each of them is different, and for all the similarities of their experiences, each of their stories is different.
What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?
Part of that time on the street I got involved with the Diggers in Toronto. That was a real eye-opening experience for me. The Diggers had a big house near Yorkville where people could stay if they didn’t have shelter. They provided legal and medical help and referrals to other forms of assistance. They based their philosophy on that of the original Diggers (dating back to the 1600s), who had a vision of society as free from ownership of property, and all forms of buying and selling.
I can remember going around with them at the end of the day to the back doors of restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries. We’d be given the produce and bread that was otherwise going to be thrown out, and take it back to the house to make big dinners to feed whoever showed up.
There were some older people there (and when I say “older” I mean people in their twenties) but most of it was kids helping kids. I suppose that was my first introduction to the concept of a “family of choice.”
What advice, if any, would you give your teen self? Would your teen self have listened?
It wouldn’t so much be advice as to tell him that it gets better. And no, I wouldn’t listened.
Do you have any regrets about your teen years? Anything left undone or anything that might have been better left undone?
There are always regrets, but those formative years make us who we are, and since I’m comfortable with who I am inside my skin, I wouldn’t want to change anything because then I might be somebody else.
What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?
My unfettered optimism. I honestly thought we were going to change the world for the better. It wasn’t a matter of perhaps, or maybe, so much as when.Every Day I Write the Book
Your newest book, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, is both an expansion of a picture book and a collaboration with artist Charles Vess. A companion novel, Seven Wild Sisters, is forthcoming in 2014 and is also heavily illustrated. Can you tell us about the genesis of these books (which were both published previously in different forms) and about the collaboration process?
I must be a terrible collaborator. The reason I say that is because I don’t like to discuss works in progress or upcoming projects. The excitement I get from writing is finding out each day what happens next. If I talk about it, I lose interest. Or worse, deliberately do something different to maintain my interest—which can often be to the detriment of the story.
Before I started working with Charles Vess, my very limited experience with collaboration was taking turns writing something with another writer (this was in my formative years as a writer and I soon stopped doing it). With artists, either I’d be given some art, or the artist would work from a finished story.
The difference with Charles Vess is that we were friends for a long time before we ever began collaborating. Of course, we had similar interests and sensibilities, as one tends to have with friends.
Our first collaboration followed a somewhat traditional path. I knew that Charles had always wanted to illustrate children’s books, but he just couldn’t seem to catch a break with publishing houses despite a heap of talent and success in related areas such as professional comic book art. So I approached my editor at Viking and offered to write a children’s picture book on spec, which they could publish if they liked it—on the one condition that Charles Vess would be the artist.
With nothing to lose, they agreed to take a look at the manuscript when I’d completed it. So Charles and I sat on his rural front porch in Virginia and started throwing around ideas. I remembered this enormous charcoal drawing I’d seen at his studio. It featured one of those classic old trees that he’s so good at depicting, with a ring of cats surrounding it. I said, let’s do a story based on that, set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, which were across the county road from where we were sitting.
Charles, my wife MaryAnn and I then went for a long hike in those hills. Charles Vess would point out scenes he’d like to paint—a waterfall, an old abandoned homestead—and I’d make a mental note to include them in the story.
I came up with the story itself later, when I got back to Ottawa, and sent him the finished manuscript. When Viking accepted it for a picture book, Charles proceeded to paint the illustrations. It was published as A Circle of Cats, a short picture book for kids.
Our next collaborations (Seven Wild Sisters and Medicine Road) were for an older audience, and followed a somewhat similar pattern, except we talked a lot more about themes before I began writing and I broke my own writing rule and sent him chapters as I wrote them. The benefit of this was that he would return character and scene sketches which would keep me excited as I wrote. The mash-ups of my first drafts and his sketches heightened the creative experience for me.
The process changed again with The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. Charles Vess and I talked about a few ideas for things that he wanted to draw, but I went back to my customary process of finishing the story in its entirety before sharing it with anyone, even him. What can I say? I always hold my first drafts close to the chest and old habits die hard.
The illustrations that Charles did for the book are some of his best to date, and we’ve enjoyed quite a lot of success with it—so much so that Little, Brown decided that their edition of Seven Wild Sisters should get the same lavishly illustrated in colour treatment. That was an exciting development. Charles V.’s gorgeous style perfectly portrays the old-timey feel of that story.
Your work is often described as mythic, meaning fiction that draws essential substance from myth, folklore, fairy tale, and legend, but it is also grounded in reality, especially when it comes to characters. You often write characters, whether they’re teens or adults, who are outsiders, living on the fringes of society both practically and metaphorically speaking. You write about life on the street, about characters who have survived horrific abuse, who are bullied or ostracized, who live outside the lines. There seems to be a space there—where outcast characters meet the sense of wonder inherent in your work—that allows you to explore real world issues in unique ways. Could you talk a little about these elements and what draws you to explore these types of characters, especially in a mythic setting?
Fairy tales and mythology have always been an exaggerated distillation of the real world. Think of them as blueprints for how to deal with a multitude of situations that can arise in a person’s life. The beauty of them is that their analogies resonate so deeply and they also entertain while they teach.
I believe a good writer can write a good book with any sort of character, in any sort of setting, but I prefer to write about the outsider. It might just be because I’ve been one (or perceived myself to be one) for so much of my life. But the simple fact of being marginalized immediately brings conflict to a story before the narrative even begins, and that’s gold for a writer because it means that your character already has depth before events begin to unfold.
And there’s certainly no lack of outsiders one can use. There are artists and musicians, hobos and outlaws, even the high school loner.
I find the use of magical characters and storylines to be an excellent way of bringing the protagonist’s subconscious world on stage by showing these hidden elements, rather than simply telling the reader about them—sort of allowing the characters to have conversations with themselves through the magical beings. Eventually, in books like Memory & Dream, Someplace to Be Flying and various short stories, I began to tell events from the magical beings’ perspectives because they began to intrigue me in their own right.
These days I like to explore both—finding the magic in the ordinary characters and the humanity in the magical ones.
Fantasy/myth/fairy tales are also an excellent way to address real world problems. The reader who might avoid “issue” stories appears more willing to explore them when they are leavened with a sense of wonder.
The one rule I won’t ever break is that magic can’t solve real world problems.
Your settings range from Cornwall to Ottawa, fictional Newford to the American Southwest, but while the location might change, you have a number of recurring themes that are explored in fascinating and varied ways throughout all your books: family (whether the one you choose or the one you’re born into), kindness as an end in itself, the importance of holding on to hope and wonder, responsibility to others, being true to yourself. Has your approach to, or understanding of, these big ideas changed or evolved over the course of your career? Do you approach the exploration of those ideas differently when writing for different audiences or age groups?
My friend Andrew Vachss has told me more than once that he has only one story to tell and he’ll only stop telling it when it’s no longer necessary. Personally, I think he has all sorts of different stories, but I understand what he means.
Thankfully, my senses of hope, wonder and kindness remain intact, elsewise I just wouldn’t be interested in writing. To make a reader care about what goes on inside a piece of fiction, first the writer has to care. We need to write from our enthusiasms and the things that have meaning in our own lives. Our enthusiasms can change over the years, but the things we believe in and hold meaning for us—those elements that fuel the themes of what we want to talk about—are more steadfast. And they’re what infuses our art with color and meaning—whether we want them to or not.
I don’t write differently for younger age groups, except for omitting obvious scenes of graphic sex and/or violence, or very offensive language, but those don’t tend to show up very much in my work anyway.
Can you tell us about your alternate identity as a musician? How would you describe your music? How does writing and playing music compare to the process of writing a novel or short story? What or who inspires you to write music? Does the music you listen to seep into your work as a writer? What music are you listening to now?
Do you have room for a book-length answer to these questions? Because that’s what it would take to respond to them all properly. But I’ll try to touch on a few.
When I started playing music in the late sixties/early seventies it was a mix of folk music and the psych-folk that was coming out of England (Donovan, Incredible String Band, original material). Then one day I bought an album by Seamus Ennis on which he plays the uillean pipes and whistle, sings and even tells a story. I realized that this was the soundtrack to all those fairy tales and folktales I’d grown up reading and fell in love with the music.
After that I played and listened to Celtic music for years until I found myself wanting story songs that weren’t based on ancient goings-on, but set in the here and now. I’d never stopped listening to other kinds of music and slowly MaryAnn and I began to incorporate Americana songs and originals into our repertoire.
These days, if you listen to our CDs, they’re basically folk rock with touches of country and Celtic. If we play as a duo, the sound is pretty much the same, except unplugged. But I’ll be honest—it’s way more fun to play with a band.
Music’s always part of my writing. I think all art is interconnected. You can’t create or experience one without its influences bleeding into another. In my writing, music’s mostly something that feeds my inspiration and mood while I’m writing, but it’s also taught me how to “score” scenes and even novels. The rise and fall of the storyline echoes the flow of a good piece of music.
[You can see the video for the song "Cherokee Girl" here.]Just Can’t Get Enough
Question from David Levithan: Hello, Charles. Lovely to meet you. I’m going to ask a question I’ve always been curious about: How do you feel your life as a reviewer affects your life as a novelist? Is there a visible connection between them, or do you try to keep them in isolation booths?
Hi, David. I just have to say that your novel Every Day is probably one of the best, most innovative and meaningful books it’s been my pleasure to read. Thank you for writing it. And I mean that with all sincerity.
On to your question. I often tell new writers that the best way to learn this craft of ours is to read a lot and to write a lot. They sometimes don’t understand the reading a lot part and I have to explain that the beauty of writing is that we have the luxury of having the best writers of the past few hundred years to mentor us. We do it by reading their books and asking questions of those books. Why do we like this character, but not this one? Why are we bored, or why do we frantically turn pages to find out what happens next? Everything we need to know about characterization, pacing, plotting, the utilization of our themes is in those books.
So that’s what I get out of reviewing. Books show up in my mailbox that I might never have looked at twice in a bookstore, and since I try them all, I’m often surprised with some new discovery (and then have to go back and find all of the author’s old work).
On the other hand, as soon as a book bores me, I put it aside and try another. With my column I have the luxury of reviewing what I want, and being a bit selfish with the use of my time, I prefer to only review books that I like. I don’t want to have to read a bad book all the way through just to write a scathing review of it. And frankly, as bad as any book is, I know the amount of work that went into it and would get no pleasure out of tearing it apart.
I’m not a critic. That’s not my job. My job as a reviewer—or at least my perception of it—is to point out books to my readers that I think they’ll enjoy.
But I remember what made me stop reading a book when I’m writing my own, and I try not to make the same mistakes. It’s this constant reminder—of the good and the bad—that keeps me honest. It’s also completely subjective as well, of course, but I only write books that I’d like to read, so it works for me.
Charles has contributed a question for the next author in the series, Elizabeth Wein. Watch for an interview with her in a couple weeks.
Charles de Lint was born in the Netherlands on December 22, 1951. His family emigrated to Canada when he was only four months old. His father’s job with an international surveying company resulted in several moves during de Lint’s childhood, but by the time he was 12—having lived in Western Canada, Turkey and Lebanon—the family had settled in Lucerne, Quebec, not too far from Ottawa, Ontario where he now resides. In 1980, de Lint married the love of his life, MaryAnn Harris, who works closely with him as his first editor, business manager and creative consort. They share their love and home with a cheery little dog named Johnny Cash.
The proverbial Renaissance man, de Lint is also a painter, poet and musician. His storytelling skills shine in his original songs, several of which were recorded and released in 2011 on his CD, Old Blue Truck. A multi-instrumentalist, de Lint performs with MaryAnn (also a musician). His main instruments are guitar, harmonica and vocals, while hers are mandolin, guitar, vocals and percussion. De Lint has been the main book reviewer for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction since 1987 and has also written critical essays, music reviews, opinion columns and entries to encyclopedias.
He is best known as a master in the field of contemporary fantasy, helping to pioneer the genre with his groundbreaking novel Moonheart (1984). His numerous awards and honors include the World Fantasy Award, the Canadian SF/Fantasy Aurora Award, and the White Pine Award, among others. Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll, conducted by Random House and voted on by readers, put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100. Trader (1997), Seven Wild Sisters (2002), and The Blue Girl (2004) were all selected as Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association, and The Blue Girl and Jack of Kinrowan (1997) were chosen for the 2008 and 2003 Popular Paperbacks lists.
With 39 novels and 35 books of short fiction to date, de Lint writes for adults, teens and children. His most recent adult novel, The Mystery of Grace (2009), is a fantastical ghost story; newer work includes Under My Skin and Over My Head—the first two books of his new YA series, The Wildlings, and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a novel for middle-grade readers. Another middle-grade novel, Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale, will be published in 2014. You can find him at his website or Tumblr, on Twitter, or visit him on Facebook.
-Julie Bartel, currently reading and loving The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Wow, just when we thought vampires were really dead, Holly Black comes out with this beautifully crafted, thrilling new vampire story. It begins when our heroine, Tara, wakes up in a bathtub the morning after a party, feeling more than a bit hung over. But at least she’s alive; almost all of the other party guests are not.
In the story, vampires have multiplied beyond the threshold of secrecy, and the United States has established “coldtowns” where they can live, so to speak, in decadent freedom. Somehow, Tara finds herself under the protection of one of the oldest, most infamous (and definitely most gorgeous) of the vampires, Gavriel. Their relationship is intense, twisted, and, of course, insatiable.
The song, Bent, is from a 2007 album from Matchbox Twenty, Exile on Mainstream. Since I absolutely love Rob Thomas’s voice, it’s surprising that these guys haven’t been on Jukebooks before now. But Bent describes the attraction between Tana and Gavriel perfectly.
Holly Black herself tells a bit about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:
-Diane Colson, currently reading Cartwheel (advanced reader’s copy) by Jennifer Dubois