Monday, January 27, 2014

NEWS: 2014 Youth Media Awards—Tracy Weighs In

The 2014 Youth Media Awards were announced this morning! Last year I had so much fun posting about by reaction to the Youth Media Awards announcement that I can't resist a repeat this year. But if you prefer to skip my (mostly) approving commentary, feel free to skip directly to the official Press Release.

John Newbery Medal

Medal Winner: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by ate DiCamillo
A new book by Kate DiCamillo automatically goes on my Newbery contender list, and Flora & Ulysses lived up to expectations. It's a smart and sensitive tale about friendship with plenty of laughter and adventures along the way. Ulysses's poetic compositions add a literary element to the romp, and the integration of graphic novel-style panels is both innovative and unexpected. Although overall I was much more enthused by 2012's MG offerings than those I read in 2013, Flora & Ulysses is a Newbery winner I can get behind.

Newbery Honor: Doll Bones by Holly Black
With Doll Bones released for middle-grade readers and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for the YA market, Holly Black had a pretty busy year. Both titles generated a fair amount of awards buzz, but Doll Bones is the title I expected to see honored. I'm happy to see it make the list.

Newbery Honor: The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Last year's winner skewed a bit young in the Newbery reading age, as does The Year of Billy Miller, a simple yet engaging book about a year in the life of a second grader. It's rich in character development and offers up four vivid demonstrations of important childhood relationships in bite-size, accessible pieces for newly independent readers. I didn't expect to see it on this list, but like last year, I am glad to see that younger chapter-book readers aren't being ignored. Bravo!

Newbery Honor: One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
This is a book that only recently appeared on my radar thanks to its inclusion on NPR's Best Books list. It sounds like a very intriguing mystery indeed.

Newbery Honor: Paperboy by Vince Vawtor
So... I took this one home ages ago and still haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I guess I should get on that.

**What's Missing:
Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool

I fully expected Claire Vanderpool to take home a second Newbery. Instead, Navigating Early earned her a Printz Honor. Given the recent inclusion of "younger" MG novels among Newbery winners and honorees, I wonder whether there is a concerted effort among the committees to shift tween books (for the 10–14 audience) more toward the YA end of the awards spectrum?

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
I adored Counting by 7s, a heartwarming, surprisingly funny book about a twelve-year-old girl coping with losing her parents and the various connections she makes in the process. Because some reviewers felt the ending was a bit too perfect, I wasn't really expecting a nod... but I hoped for one nonetheless.

Randolph Caldecott Medal

Medal Winner: Locomotive, illustrated and written by Brian Floca
I am soooo happy about this one. The text, images, and typography of Locomotive work together seamlessly to convey movement and wonder, skillfully evoking the sounds, sights, and even feel of 1869 train travel. (Also a Sibert Honor Book)

Caldecott Honor: Journey, illustrated and written by Aaron Becker
This was my favorite fiction picture book of the year and the title I expected would receive the medal. The magisterial artwork of this wordless picture book is wonderfully expressive and creates a strong narrative without any need of words—plus, it plays fantastic homage to Harold and the Purple Crayon. Read my review.

Caldecott Honor: Flora & the Flamingo, by Molly Idle
This wordless, lift-the-flap gem is yet another impressive example of visual storytelling. For me, it created the feeling of live animation—perhaps no surprise, given Idle's background in animation. Read my review and/or check out the fabulous book trailer to see what I mean.

Caldecott Honor: Mr. Wuffles!, illustrated and written by David Weisner
Silent picture book guru David Weisner was a frontrunner on pretty much everyone's Caldecott list. Mr. Wuffles! is an imaginative, comical tale that makes wonderful use of composition and color. Anyone else find it interesting that all three Caldecott honor books are wordless? Clearly wordless picture books were all the rage in 2013, and it's no wonder with such fabulous examples.

**What's Missing:
The Mightly Lalouche
, illustrated by Sophie Blackwell and written by Matthew Olshan
I knew this one was definitely an underdog, receiving little attention in the myriad Mock Caldecott races, but I loved this quietly captivating story of the little man who could. The pen-and-ink illustrations featuring three-dimensional cut outs create a bold, colorful, collage-like style that is both charming and reminiscent of a silent film after color is added in.

Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award
(Aka, the category where I am always shamefully underinformed...)

Medal Winner: P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
This one is also sitting at home in my out-of-control TBR pile. However, given that I haven't yet read its prequel (One Crazy Summer) either, I haven't been very motivated to pick it up. So I guess now I have a bit more incentive!

King (Author) Honor: March: Book One, written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
Also sitting at home. At least this year I've heard of the books on the list! I have heard glowing reviews of this graphic-format work, and I am planning to read it ASAP.

King (Author) Honor: Darius & Twig by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers is consistently awesome, but I haven't read this one either. Or his other 2013 release (Invasion), though I have been on the library hold list for a while now.

King (Author) Honor: Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
I generally enjoy Grimes's poetry and fiction... so how did I miss hearing about this title? This is why I love awards lists—I discover so many wonderful books that I might've otherwise overlooked.

Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award

King (Illustrator) Medal: I, Too, Am America, illustrated by Bryan Collier and written by Langston Hughes
The imaginative use of collage and watercolor illuminates the text perfectly. I approve.

King (Illustrator) Honor: Nelson Mandela., illustrated and written by Kadir Nelson
Yay! I have yet to encounter a Kadir Nelson illustration I didn't adore. His paintings in Nelson Mandela do a fabulous job of conveying tension, emotions, and subtext.

Michael L. Printz Award

Medal Winner: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Sedgwick uses recurring motifs and characters to build a novel of linked vignettes, creating an eerie novel of impressive style and structure. Unfortunately, the shifting of characters and timelines does not allow for much in the way of character development, so at the end I was pretty disinterested in the fate of Eric and Merle. Still, the literary merit is undeniable, so despite my personal ambivalence about the book, I'm not surprised (or even unhappy) to see it recognized by this year's committee.

Printz Honor: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
With lovely prose meditations and vibrantly realized characters, Rowell captures the pureness of first love without glossing over the ugly, awkward parts of life. I thought Eleanor & Park might be overlooked due to its extreme popularity, but I am glad to be proven wrong. Read my review.

Printz Honor: Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
I haven't yet read this layered, historical fiction novel, but it sounds so our-of-the-ordinary that I am very much looking forward to it.

Printz Honor: Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool
As I have already noted, I expected this title to fall in the younger age category. In fact, I thought it would win the Newbery. An Odyssey-like adventure punctuated by intricate plotting and rich details, I am happy to see it honored regardless of the category.

**What's Missing:
I thought Patrick Ness's More Than This might get an honors nod, but I was wrong. Still, although I love Ness and appreciated the symbolism of his novel, it wasn't one of my favorites of the year. Far, Far Away had a lot of buzz too. Personally, my favorite unrecognized title was All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry. (I'm not naming Charm & Strange only because it nabbed the Morris Medal!)

Other ALA Award winners announced this morning include:

Charm & Strange
by Stepahnie Kuehn,  William C. Morris Award winner
I was completely mesmerized by this emotionally intense story about isolation and madness that weaves together two separate narratives. A fantastic combination of voice, character, and pacing kept me on edge from start to finish. In my opinion, this win was SO well deserved! Read my review.

Better Nate Than Never
by Tim Federle, Stonewall Honor Book
Nate's inner monologue and offbeat personality are laugh-out-loud funny, but the story also managed to dexterously address deeper issues, such as bullying, disappointment, family, religion, and sexuality. However, all of this is handled with a light touch, so that Nate is allowed to shine all on his own, without judgment or labels. I didn't think about this book when considering possible Stonewall recipients (probably because it is geared toward the MG market rather than YA), but I am so happy to see it recognized. I am eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel :)

Niño Wrestles the World, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award
This child's picture book in which a young boy imitates the melodramatic world of Mexican wrestling is hilarious and wonderfully illustrated.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, Pura Belpré (Author) Award
I quite enjoyed this book and appreciated the authentic cultural details.

For a complete list of awards, winners, and honorees (if you're not sick of awards lists by now), you can read the ALA Press Release.

Friday, January 24, 2014

BEST OF 2013: Adult Fiction & Nonfiction

There are a lot of potentially great 2013 books that I haven't gotten around to reading yet (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah and  Charles Graeber's The Good Nurse are next up in my towering to-read pile!), but after surveying our entire library staff, here are our picks for 2013's Best Books for Adults:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Weaving back and forth through time and across characters, this compelling first novel begins with an eight-year-old girl who watched as her father was "disappeared" by Russian soldiers in the middle of the night.  Akhmed, the not-so-good physician of the local Chechen village and a family friend, is determined to rescue Haava from a similar fate and seeks the assistance of a cynical, tough-minded surgeon at a nearby hospital. The story centers on just five days of the lives of Haava, Akhmed, and Sonja, and yet it provides an almost magical look at the myriad connections—both discovered and never realized—that shape peoples lives, especially in a time of war.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
Even before it was discovered that Robert Galbraith was a pseudonym for author J.K. Rowling, this compelling mystery  about a P.I. and his new office temp teaming up to investigate the suspicious death of a young model had the attention of critics. Describes by one reviewer for Library Journal as "a mash-up of Charles Dickens and Penny Vincenzi."

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
In this mesmerizing story of love, loss, obsession, and the haunting power of art, a young man who lost his mother in an tragic accident grows to adulthood, only to become entangled in the art underworld of New York City

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In this stunning, thought-provoking novel, Ursula Todd goes through a series of  lives and deaths, experiencing wars and epidemics in ever-changing circumstances. Every time she hits a bad end—done in by Spanish flu, murdered by an abusive husband, killed in a bombing raid—it all begins again. Often, she has a nagging sense of déjà vu, but she can never put her finger on why. Reading Life After Life is like reading a sophisticated Choose Your Own novel for grown-ups, one that resets itself. Atkinson weaves an intricate web of parallel paths, detours, and intersections which is utterly fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, and frequently startling with  unanticipated moments of sharp humor.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

This emotionally powerful story of two brothers born in a quiet village outside Calcutta spans decades and continents. In an era of political turmoil, the brothers choose divergent paths—Subhash retreating to a quiet university in New England while Udayan becomes increasingly involved in a Mao-inspired rebellion against India’s social iniquities—and yet their lives remain almost fatalistically entwined despite their estrangement. Perceptive and universal in theme, the story explores the myriad nuances of guilt, marriage, parenthood, moral conviction, loyalty, and betrayal through day-to-day events against the more expansive backdrop of world affairs. The Lowland unfolds slowly, but Lahiri’s elegant prose and full characterizations make for a riveting tale.
  From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Interpreter of Maladies.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
A woman stuck in a loveless marriage and an obituary writer looking for her lost love discover a surprising connection. Part literary mystery and part love story, this novel is full of grief, shame, and hope.

The Returned by Jason Mott
The world is turned upside down in this emotional novel in which people inexplicably begin returning from the dead. At the heart of the story is an elderly couple whose 8-year-old son suddenly reappears nearly 50 years after his death.

Six Years by Harlan Coben
Six years after the love of his life left him to marry another man, Professor Jake Sanders learns that this rival is dead and that the woman of his dreams is not who she claimed to be. Betrayals and secrets are unearthed as Jake then races against the clock to track down the real woman he once loved and lost.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham
Reader favorite Jack Brigance, the attorney from A Time to Kill, makes a reappearance in Ford County, Mississippi, in this surprisingly suspenseful courtroom drama about wills, racial tension, and family secrets.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The author of The Jane Austen Book Club creates another unforgettable work in this heartbreaking work about family dysfunction. This is a book best read "blind"; spoilers contained in some reviews and blurbs may ruin the experience otherwise.

Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts
Eli Landon is suffering from the public and police scrutiny after being wrongly impli- cated in the murder of his soon-to-be wife. He then takes refuge in a old family home and falls in love with resident housekeeper Abra Walsh, with whom he is entangled in an old, life-threatening mystery.

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a distant family member reconstruct the life of a reclusive copper heiress in this fascinating tale of family scandal, privilege, and a surprising path to happiness.

Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson
The Duck Dynasty star chronicles his unusual life from childhood through the founding of the family business.

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
Through clear, gorgeous prose and raw honesty, Lindhout recounts the year she spent as a hostage in Somalia for over a year. The harrowing story is balanced by Lindhout's descriptions of her childhood, her youthful interest in world travel inspired by National Geographic, and her almost-accidental introduction into the world of combat-zone reporting.

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO and and top-ranked businesswoman Sheryl Sandberg shares though-provoking advice for women, urging them to seek professional challenges and take more risks to find work that they can feel passionate about.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Through the deaths of five young men in her Mississippi community over the course of four years, the National Book Award–winning author explores the realities of poverty and blackness in America. This candid, beautifully wrought account maintains a light, humanistic touch but does not gloss over the gritty details.

Friday, January 17, 2014

BEST OF 2013: Teen Books

Okay, so there are still TONS of probably awesome 2013 YA books that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, though over the last several weeks I sure have done my best to read EVERYTHING I can get my hands on. Some of the promising titles I still have yet to read include Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal, Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian, Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, and The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax. It sounds like I haven't been doing much reading, doesn't it? But really, for every book that made our list there are several more professional  reviewer favorites that just missed out. These include high profile titles by Patrick Ness, Marcus Sedgwick, Andrew Smith, and Maggie Stiefvater (my reviews are soon to come though!).

As for those titles I haven't yet gotten around to reading... Well, they're still on my ever-growing TBR and any title I feel should have been on this list will be added in later updates. So with that said, these are the best teen books of 2013 that we've read  (so far).

All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry*
In an alternate world that evokes the New England Puritan settlements of the 17th century, 18-year-old Judith is an outcast in her community and even in her own family. She disappeared without a trace at the age of 14 only to mysteriously reappear at 16 physically mutilated and unable to share what happened to her. Only now that her community is under attack, Judith must find the courage to face the past and make her silenced voice heard in a desperate bid to save them all. Poetic and gorgeously written, this is a stunning mystery, told entirely through Judith's imagined conversations with the boy she has loved since childhood.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Both intimate and epic in scale, these companion novels tell the story of China's Boxer Rebellion from opposing viewpoints.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Strange, beautiful, and unsettling, this is a story is told from two directions. In the present, Win is a weird, bitter loner at a Vermont boarding school who believes there is a wolf inside him, struggling to break free. When a dead body is found in the woods, he believes he is responsible. In the past, Win is ten years old and goes by a different name—Drew. Drew looks up to his older brother and loves his little sister, but it's clear there is something wrong in Drew's world. Slowly, the two separate narratives merge; along the way, the reader becomes completely immersed in piecing together the mystery of Win and his past.
Read Tracy's Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Tana woke up surrounded by carnage. While she was passed out in the bathroom, vampires savaged and killed her fellow partiers—all except her ex-boyfriend, now infected, and a mysterious, chained vampire boy who’s sanity is in question. With nowhere else to go, the three uneasy allies travel to the nearest Coldtown, where vampires, the infected, and desperate wannabes are segregated from the outside world. Tana is determined to hang on to her humanity and protect her loved ones, but Coldtown is even more dangerous than she expects. A fascinating world and wonderfully flawed, intriguing characters highlight this layered story of guilt and vengeance, with a bit of love and redemption thrown in for balance. Still, this is not your average teen vampire romance, where black and white are clear and everything is wrapped up neatly. Chilling and wholly original, this is a vampire novel with a difference.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Park thinks the crazy-haired, oddly dressed new girl on his bus looks like a victim waiting to happen. Meanwhile, Eleanor is too concerned with her problems at home to think much about the "stupid Asian kid" who reluctantly scoots over to share his seat, cursing under his breath all the while. For days they share the seat in awkward, sometimes hostile silence. But then... Something changes. Soon, Eleanor is surreptitiously reading Watchmen comics over his shoulder and Park is making Eleanor mix tapes of his favorite bands. Slowly, tentatively a friendship develops and then friendship becomes something more. But love doesn't solve everything. Together they must face disapproving parents, mean-spirited classmates, and the dark truths about her family that Eleanor never wants Park to discover.
Read Tracy's Review

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
A quiet introvert whose passion is writing fan fiction faces her first year of college in this captivating novel about growing up without letting go of the things you love.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Blending a contemporary mindset with the heart of classic fairy tales, this is the atmospheric tale of a young man who can speak to ghosts—specifically, Jacob Grimm himself—and finds himself in a dark, sort-of fairy tale of his own.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman
After falling for a mysterious Dutch boy after a whirlwind day in Paris, a young American woman wakes up alone and retreats home, never knowing what truly happened. But over the course of her freshman year of college—with a little help from Shakespeare and some unexpected friendships—she finds the courage to take risks and follow her heart, in love and life.

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
Mila has a special ability to observe beneath the surface; she reads people and her surroundings to solve real-life puzzles. So when her father’s best friend turns up missing, Mila is determined to solve the mystery of his disappearance. The result is a secret-revealing journey through upstate New York with her father, where she is presented with clues that don’t quite add up and learns complicated truths about mistakes, compromise, and consequence. Mila is a fascinating, vibrantly realized character, and this novel presents an intriguing, cerebral mystery full of realistic suspense.

Reality Boy by A.S. King
Gerald is very, very angry. It seems like he has always been angry, and there are three seasons worth of reality TV to prove it. Of course, the nanny show that made Gerald infamous when he was five years old showed very little of what actually went on in his house. Now seventeen, Gerald's just trying to keep it together so he doesn't end up dead or in jail. Then he meets Hannah, who has a screwed up homelife herself. Gerald's is a unflinchingly honest voice, full of anger, insight, and pain, and his story is as riveting as any reality show. With her trademark combination of magical realism and gritty drama, King's latest offering is another winner.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
In this wildly inventive fantasy set in an alternate version of America, a special cadre of "Rithmatists" train from the age of eight to protect the American Isles from an infestation of Wild  Chalkings, drawings which have the ability to interact in the three-dimensional world and even kill. Sixteen-year-old Joel, a student at an elite school with a special program for Rithmatists, longs to be part of that privileged group, but he already missed his chance. First of a new series.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
In this gripping companion novel to Code Name Verity, a young American pilot becomes a prisoner at Ravensbrück, a German concentration camp. Although beloved and controversial characters from Verity are revisited, this novel belongs entirely to Rose and her fellow prisoners. It's a different story entirely—we know early on Rose survives to tell her story—but the journey is equally tense and dramatic.

The Symptoms of My Insanity by Mindy Raf
As if romantic tangles, school pressure, and family drama weren't enough to deal with, Izzy also has to cope with panic attacks and hypochondria. With self-deprecating humor and wry observations, Izzy offers up a realistic coming of age tale with depth. One reviewer dubbed it "Woody Allen for the teenage set." This is the only title on our list I haven't read myself, but one of our circulation clerks highly recommends it!

So, that's our list so far. What titles would you add to your own best-of-the-year list?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

REVIEW: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Audience: Teen/Young Adult

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Win is an outsider at his exclusive Vermont boarding school, and that's the way he wants it. It's safer for him, and, perhaps more importantly, safer for his classmates. Something wild and dangerous lives inside him ready to emerge at any moment, and he can't wait. When a dead body is found in the woods near his school, Win believes he's responsible, that his inner wolf has finally found a way to come out. But will Win ever truly be able to break free, or will the tragedies of his childhood trap him forever? 

First Line: "I don't feel the presence of God here."

Tracy's Thoughts:
This book pulled me in from the first moment and never let me go. I picked it up early on a Saturday morning, and I didn't want to leave the tormented mind of Drew/Win for even a minute. Three hours later, I was hungry (no breakfast yet) and needed to use the bathroom, but I was completely full of awe at Kuehn's writing, particularly the perfect interweaving of voice, character, and pacing. I needed several moments to process what I had just read. What I had experienced, thanks the amazing voice of its troubled narrator(s).

Readers are presented with a character study and mystery from two directions. In the present, Win is a bitter loner, angry and undeniably weird. His thoughts are strange and philosophical and his mind is clearly (or at least probably) confused. No one understands him, and he does not understand himself either. A dead body was found in the woods and Win suspects he's responsible, though he has no memory of killing anyone. As a reader, I was aware something terrible had happened—leaving Win alone and abandoned—and I wanted desperately to understand his past and what was happening to him in the present. Is he crazy? Is he a werewolf, as he seems to believe? Is he both?

In the past, Drew (Win's name before the Something Terrible happened) is ten years old and—like the present Win—suffers from severe motion sickness and has strange thoughts and impulses. There is a pervasive sense of doom, though the source of Drew's troubles is merely hinted at. Through both alternating narratives, Kuehn reveals bits and pieces of the past and their consequences in the present, so that readers are kept constantly on edge, always adjusting and readjusting theories about Win.

Win's not a particular likeable guy, but it is impossible to read his confused and caustic words in juxtaposition with his past without feeling sympathy and fascination. I was determined to unravel the mystery of Win's past and present. And even when I thought I understood what was going on in Win's mind, there was always a niggle of doubt where I wondered if Win's strange, confused thoughts were true after all.The uncertainty and fascination created through voice and structure are the heart of Kuehn's amazing storytelling in this novel. And the writing itself is beautiful, unsettling, and—even though I suspected the big reveal at the end—completely gutwrenching.

Charm & Strange isn't a perfect book, but it is powerful and emotionally intense from start to finish. Although a handful of recent YA books have held me in their spell (e.g., this one, this one, and this one), not since first reading Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl have I been so completely absorbed and unwilling to put a book down.

Friday, January 10, 2014

BEST OF 2013: Middle Grade/Tween Books

From gut-busting humor to historical adventures to captivating fantasies, middle-grade authors had a lot to offer readers in 2013. My personal favorite so far? I think I'll have to go with either Counting by 7s or Better Nate Than Ever for their strong narrative voices and unique character perspectives. I also LOVED Look Up!, although I have no interest in birdwatching. Or at least I didn't until recently...

Of course, I might give you an entirely different list of favorites if you ask me tomorrow ;) Each of the books listed below appealed to me for different reasons. (Also, I am still reading From Norvelt to Nowhere, the sequel to Jack Gantos's darkly comic, Newbery winning Dead End in Norvelt... Plus there may be another wonderful title I've yet to discover. But don't worry; I will update this list to add any deserving titles I may have missed this time around.)

So, without further ado, my favorite middle-grade titles of 2013 (that I've read so far!) are:


Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
In this hilarious romp full of Broadway references and misadventures, an eighth grader (with the encouragement of his best friend Libby) concocts a plan to run away to New York and audition for a new musical adaptation of E.T. Nate's inner monologue and offbeat personality are laugh-out-loud funny, but the story also dexterously addresses deeper issues, such as bullying, disappointment, family, religion and sexuality. However, all of this is handled with a light touch, so that Nate is allowed to shine all on his own, without judgment or labels. Ages 9–13.

Bluffton by Matt Phelan (graphic novel)
In 1908, when a troupe of vaudevillians turn up for the summer in his sleepy Michigan town, young Henry is fascinated—particularly by a young prankster named Buster Keaton. Ages 9–13.
Read Tracy's Review

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance is not your usual twelve-year-old. She's fascinated by medical ailments, is an avid gardener, and counts by sevens for fun.Most people think she's strange, but at least she’s always had the support of her parents… until everything changes. Luckily, an odd assortment of characters—including her sad-sack school counselor and a Vietnamese family living below the poverty level—are there to help her. In turn, Willow changes their lives as well. This transformative story about loss, community, and resilience is both heartwarming and surprisingly funny. Ages 10–14.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
An eerie ghost story combines with a tale of friendship, adventure, and growing up in this wonderfully imaginative book from the co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles Ages 10–14.

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
This story about a comic-reading cynic; a poetry-writing, superhero squirrel; and a temporarily blind boy all begins with an out-of-control vacuum cleaner. It’s a smart and sensitive tale of friendship and forgiveness, but there are plenty of laughs and adventures along the way. Ages 8–12.

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
In this sequel to The Hero's Guide to saving Your Kingdom, the League of Princes (and their princesses) reunite for a new adventure in bumbling heroism. Perfect for lovers of humor and fairy tales of all ages. Ages 8 and up.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood
When he is abandoned in the deep, dark forest by his stepfather, Jinx is adopted (sort of) by a mysterious wizard who may or may not be evil. But as he grows up to learn more about the magic and the world outside of the Urwald, Jinx begins to see that life and magic are more complicated–and more dangerous!– than he thought. First of a new trilogy. Ages 9–13.

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool
Reality and imagination overlap in expected ways in this epic, Odyssey-like quest wherein two young teens track a bear in the wilds of Maine. Both boys have suffered recent losses, but through strange encounters with pirates (sort of), hurricanes (sort of), and buried secrets discovered along the Appalachian Trail, they come to a new understanding of one another, themselves, and the people they love. Ages 10–14.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Every four years, two children—one nice child and one nasty child—are spirited away from Gavaldon by the mysterious School Master to be trained as heroes and villains, eventually graduating into fairy tales of their own. But when princess wannabe Sophie and her witchy, loner friend Agatha are selected, the girls find that their presumed destines are flipped and the school is far more dangerous than they anticipated. Ages 8–13.
Read Tracy's Review

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Twelve-year-old Summer nearly died from malaria last year, her weird younger brother can’t make any friends, and just when things can’t get any worse, her parents have been called to Japan to take care of dying relatives. Which just leaves Summer, her brother, and her aging grandparents to do the family’s annual harvest work and earn enough money to make the mortgage. As they travel with the harvesting crew, Summer goes on her own journey of self-discovery, examining her feelings about life, death, her family, and who she truly is. Ages 10–14.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
Tall tale meets ecological fable in this folksy romp full of humor and heart.When he learns their landlord plans to evict his mother and destroy his beloved swamp to build a alligator-wrestling theme park, twelve-year-old Chap is determined to save Paradise Pies Café. Meanwhile, Bingo and J’miah, two raccoon brothers guarding the swamp, must locate the ancient, sleeping Sugar Man to stop a rampaging horde of feral hogs headed their way. Ages 8–12.


Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone*
Through fascinating photos and engaging, conversational text, Stone introduces readers to the history and character of the United States's first black paratrooper unit. Ages 10 and up.

Emancipation Proclamation by Tonya Bolden
This browsable commemorative title has the look of a scrapbook, with facsimiles of numerous period documents, drawings, and photos. Together with the accessible text—with its passionate, personal tone—this book offers a dramatic and informative portrait of abolitionism and the nation leading up to the Civil War. Ages 10 and up.

Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate*
This chatty, humorous beginner's guide to birdwatching uses hilarious, tongue-in-cheek cartoons to build enthusiasm and explain to readers how they can begin in their own backyards. Simply wonderful, from the 'Bird Watching Do's...and Don't's" on the front endpapers to the very end.

*Please note that some titles are still on order and are not yet available for checkout at BCPL.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Awesome NEWS + REVIEW: Bluffton by Matt Phelan

NEWS: Earlier today we hit a major milestone. We surpassed 50,000 page views! I would like to thank all of our readers and followers for their support. Here's to 50,000 more views, and years more of posts and reviews at Book News and Reviews!  –Tracy


Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction (Graphic Novel)
Audience: Middle Grade/Tween

Summary: The year is 1908, and a vaudeville troupe has arrived in sleepy Muskegon, Michigan to summer in nearby Bluffton. Henry—bored of the everyday sameness of Muskegon and working in his father’s shop—is fascinated by the animals and performers, but mostly with a slapstick comedian his own age named Buster Keaton. Henry quickly becomes a fixture in Bluffton, palling around with Buster and another boy traveling with the troupe. He yearns to perform like Buster, but all Buster wants to do is orchestrate pranks and play baseball.

First Lines: "Life in Muskegon, Michigan, was quiet. Ordinary."

Tracy's Thoughts: With gentle nostalgia, humor, and perfect pacing, award–winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan brings to life a bygone era in this compelling fictionalized account. Watercolor washes bring the place and period to life through soft focus, and yet the characters' actions and emotions—from Buster's pranks to Henry's envy—are powerfully visualized. Like the illustrations, the story is a quiet one, but dynamic just the same. There are plenty of laughs (some of Buster's pranks will delight and inspire mischievous kids) and there are many small, though-provoking moments of note. For example, there are small subplots about child labor laws and a romantic rivalry, but moral judgements aren't overt; instead, readers are left to examine their own beliefs and draw conclusions of their own.

Despite its historical setting, many of the events and situations of the book have a timeless feel and are perfectly relevant to today. It might be tough convincing kiddos who have no idea who Buster Keaton is to give this book a try, but then the book isn't really about Buster. It's about Henry, who in his summers with Buster is encouraged to think more widely about the world, but also learns to appreciate the world closer to home. It's a coming of age story about taking the things you love and becoming the person you are meant to be in adulthood.
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