Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Setting An Example: Strong Voices, Strong Women

Sometimes the list of Soaring Eagle nominees, since it is entirely based on nominations from teens throughout Wyoming, does not easily divide into genre categories. This week's list of books represent that fact:  the titles include historical fiction, historical fantasy, and nonfiction. All three titles, however, represent strong female voices telling their stories with dignity and intelligence.  All three present female characters fighting oppression within their respective societies.

The Royal Ranger, by John Flanagan.   We'll begin with the lightest of the three books:  the 12th in Flanagan's acclaimed Ranger's Apprentice series.  Whereas Will Treaty, the series' main character, has generally been presented as enthusiastic and optimistic, this title paints a much darker picture of Will. Due to a terrible tragedy that befell the Ranger in an earlier installment, he's grown morose and obsessed with the idea of revenge.  Will's saving grace comes in the form of a second main character, but she has her own troubles.  Madelyn, the daughter of Will's best friend, Horace, and Princess Cassandra, feels constrained by the restrictions of royal life, and battles against her parents and her lifestyle in increasingly risky ways.  Enter Halt, Will's former mentor:  he proposes that Will become mentor to Madelyn, and train her to become the first female Ranger in Araluen. Will reluctantly agrees, and Madelyn happily gives up her royal privileges to enter the Ranger force.  But when investigating a suspicious death leads Will to believe he's back on the trail of his nemesis, Madelyn's safety becomes a concern. Can Will pursue his enemy and still keep Madelyn safe?  Even more to the point -- can he satisfy his quest for revenge and still uphold the Ranger code of honor?  As stated, this is book 12 in Flanagan's historical fantasy series; find more backstory about the Ranger's Apprentice here.   However, since this title, Royal Ranger, introduces Madelyn as a new main character, it would not be necessary to have read the preceding eleven books to understand this one.


Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys.  Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. But one night, Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way out of their beloved Lithuania with others from their communities.  Nobody knows what they've done to deserve the inhuman treatment they receive; they are given little food and drink and subjected to filth, violence and worse. After stops at several labor camps, Lina and her family slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Through it all, Lina makes secret drawings, desperately trying to capture the truth of what is happening to her family and culture.  Her prayer is that her drawings, which she sends away with various accomplices, will make their way to her father, wherever he might be.  Lina holds on to this scrap of hope when faced with losing her freedom and everyone she loves. This masterful work of historic fiction presents a story of humanity that is not well-recorded in young adult literature: that of the disappearance of millions of people during the Soviet occupation, and their forced relocation to the Siberian labor camps.


I am Malala:  The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai. This nonfiction book, the only nonfiction to appear on this year's list of Soaring Eagle nominees, requires little introduction. Most people have heard at least something about the girl who was shot by a Taliban soldier, survived, and went on to be named, this fall, as the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, there is more to the story than that.  Malala's memoir, co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, recounts the rich culture and history of Pakistan, her homeland.  For readers, particularly teens, who have trouble understanding complicated Middle Eastern politics, Yousafzai explains -  in the voice of a teenager - the gradual occupation of the Swat valley by Taliban forces, and the increasingly fundamentalist Muslim restrictions placed on society.  One such restriction was prohibiting education for girls over the age of 11. Yousafzai, with the support of her parents, rebelled against this restriction and continued to pursue her own education; it was on the bus home from school that she was shot, in October of 2012.  That she recovered is considered a miracle.

Yousafzai continues to champion the cause of education for women, and has been noted as a global symbol of peaceful resistance to oppression. Her story both inspires and educates.


As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving next week, let's remember to be especially grateful to live in a country in which females have unlimited opportunities. And let's take from the example of Madelyn, Lina, and Malala the strength to stand up against oppression in any form, in any society.


 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This is America? More Soaring Eagle book award nominees

One of the most prevalent trends in Young Adult fiction continues to be the dystopian adventure -- a novel that presents some sort of post-apocalyptic view of society, and the efforts of the protagonist(s) to make sense of, and survive in, their new reality.  With many of these novels, the setting is our country, the United States of America; however, these novels present an America forever changed from our country's founding ideals.  Since next week we celebrate Veteran's Day to honor all those who have fought to uphold these founding ideals, let's look at three Soaring Eagle book award nominees that present a chilling future for our country.

The Selection by Kiera Cass:  In this future society, "America" is only the name of the main character.  Our country is instead called Ilyria, and has reverted to being ruled by a monarchy.  In this novel, something of a cross among The Hunger Games, "Cinderella," and "The Bachelor," the time has come for the prince to marry.  Since there are no other royal options for his marriage, the palace will hold a Selection:  35 young women from across the country will move into the palace and compete for the hand of the prince.  Marrying the prince becomes the dream of most all eligible teenage girls in Ilyria: not only would the bride achieve title and prominence, but she would become a One.  Society in Ilyria is divided into levels, much like castes in some third-world countries: jobs, social position, and, of course, wealth are all determined by the number assigned to your family, and the only way to move up from the level of your birth is through marriage.  There is one teenage girl, however, who wants nothing to do with the Selection: America Singer, a talented Five who has been secretly seeing Aspen, a Six, for over a year.  When America finally succumbs to her mother's urging and enters her application for the competition, she discovers that everything she thought she knew -- about friendship, about her future plans, about the Prince, and even about Aspen -- has been turned upside down.  This is the first title in Cass' trilogy:  the following titles are The Elite and The One.

The Darkest Path, by Jeff Hirsch:  Six years ago, Callum and his younger brother, James, were kidnapped from their upstate New York home.  Since then, they've been living at the headquarters of The Glorious Path -- a militant religious group founded by a former U. S. soldier.  The Path has taken over control of several southern and western states, and the United States is now engaged in its second civil war. Cal, now 15 years old, has been trained as a deadly secret agent for The Path, but he is also considered rebellious; in an effort to control him, he is given the duty of cleaning the kennels of the fighting dogs raised by The Path.  He befriends one dog, and in an attempt to save him, ends up committing murder.  Cal and the dog are now on the run, and they head north - out of Utah, where The Path is headquartered, and into Wyoming.  There, Cal meets Natalie, part of a group of teenage rebels who are fighting The Path.  They are nearly killed in one battle; will they survive a second? And how will Cal rescue his younger brother, still in the clutches of The Path?  Hirsch says on his website (www.jeff-hirsch.com) that he is at work on a companion novel to Darkest Path; at this writing, the title is planned to be a digital-only release, and a date is uncertain.

Insignia by S. J. Kincaid:  14-year-old Tom Raines just wants to "be somebody."  Since he and his father live on the fringes of society, he's lived most of his life as a nobody; even his teacher at the virtual school he sometimes attends has called him a loser.  Kincaid's novel presents a view of the United States at a time when kids attend school by logging onto the Internet and attending a virtual classroom via their avatar; when gaming happens in virtual spaces that can be publicly viewed, again via the Internet; and when World War III is being fought, not between countries, but between huge multinational corporations who control all society.  Tom happens to be an expert gamer; he's had to be, because his gaming scams often provide the only money he and his dad have for food and hotel rooms.  During one brilliant match, Tom attracts the attention of one of the country's top military generals.  The general is interested in him because World War III is a different war from anything in history:  it's being fought in outer space, with unmanned drone-like battleships controlled from earth.  The soldiers controlling the battles?  Not traditionally-trained soldiers, but gamers -- kids, like Tom, who excel at video-gaming.  Tom is recruited, and he enlists willingly -- after all, he views this as his chance to "be somebody."  But at what cost?  Tom's about to find out. This is also the first of a trilogy, followed by Vortex and Catalyst.


So, teens in Wyoming have nominated three titles that present some disturbing views of the United States of America. Some would say the changes presented in these novels could never happen.  Some would say they are imminent.  What would you say?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Creepy Soaring Eagle book award nominees

Sometimes, it's hard to believe how quickly time passes.  This autumn is one of those times:  putting up the Halloween decorations, celebrating Teen Read Week, and going out to the schools to talk about the new Soaring Eagle book award nominees . . . all these actions feel oddly routine, as if we just completed them a week ago.

Nonetheless, the calendar says an entire year has passed. And so, it's time to introduce this year's set of Soaring Eagle book award nominees:  books that, for reasons of popularity and literary quality, have been nominated by Wyoming students in 7th-12th grades as possible winners of our state youth book award.

I've just been in one of our junior high schools, talking about these books with the students.  This year's list has generated a lot of excitement about reading, and that's a very good thing.

As usual, I won't write about all fourteen nominees in one blog post.  As we're getting close to Halloween, I'll focus on the "creepy" books first:

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman:

15-year-old Jacob Fielding should not have survived the car accident that killed his foster father, but he did.  Weeks later, he returns to school and meets a new student, Ophelia, or "O" for short.  O is smart, pretty, daring; she wears a pink cast on her arm, the result of a skateboarding accident.  Jacob and his best friend, Milo, ask to sign O's pink cast.  On a whim, Jacob writes "You are indestructible" -- the very words his foster father spoke to him before their car smashed into a giant redwood tree.

That afternoon, Ophelia tries another skateboarding stunt, and wrecks - badly. She should have had more broken bones, or worse, but she walks away without a scratch.

Could Jacob's foster father have given him some magical protection before he died? And could Jacob have passed that protection on to Ophelia?

What would you do if you had the power to control life and death. How would you decide who to protect? How would you decide who lives and who dies?


Zom-B by Darren Shan:

B Smith is a bully and a thug.  B's father is worse: racist, sexist, alcoholic, and violent.  B's father keeps control in their London home by spouting prejudicial opinions, then berating -- or beating -- anyone who disagrees with him.

At school, B behaves similarly:  using insults, racial slurs, and fists when necessary, to stay on top. 

When news program footage shows a gruesome zombie attack in Ireland, B's father pronounces that the footage is just a government plot to scare citizens; and besides, he notes, the world could do without a few Irishmen anyway.

But the zombies are real, and they show up at B's high school.  In one terrible afternoon, B and his gang zigzag though classrooms and corridors, trying to escape the zombies; around every turn is a new threat.  Finally, B faces a moment of truth -- and B's true character, as well as true identity, is revealed. 

This is the first book in Shan's Zom-B series; nine books have been published so far.


UnWholly by Neal Shusterman:

The second book in Shusterman's UnWind series, UnWholly continues his disturbing vision of "Happy Jack Harvest Camp," where unwanted teenagers are "unwound" -- their body parts harvested for organ and tissue donation while they are still, barely, alive.  In the first book of the series, a group of teens manages to escape, and they continue to live underground, searching for ways to help other teens like them. 

Meanwhile, the harvesting continues, as big business and big science have teamed up to exploit these unwanted teens.  New to the story is Camus Comprix, a 21st-century Frankenstein who was constructed of donated parts from 99 gifted teens.  He is the centerpiece of "Proactive Humanity's" campaign to expand the general harvest to include not only troublesome teens, but also the imprisoned and impoverished.  Cam begins to fall in love, however, and this new development leads him to search fro meaning in his life, and to question whether a "rewound" being can actually have a soul.  

As Cam begins to question his identity, he has to also question the unwinding process that made him, and his connection to the teens who have escaped.

As stated, this is the second book in what Shusterman calls a "dystology".  Other titles include UnSouled (#3) and UnDivided (#4).

There are other titles on this year's list of nominees that are "creepy," for a variety of reasons, but these three definitely have the potential to make you jump at loud noises and peek around corners while you read them.  Happy spooky reading!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

School Year Panic: You Mean I Need a Book?

Mid- to late-August can be a relatively quiet time here in the public library:  most summer reading programs have ended, and most of the patrons who have been "hanging out" all summer have started band and sports practices, or have left town for late-summer vacations.  The week of school orientation, however, brings its own flurry of activity:  because the secondary schools in our district mandate a 20-minute reading period at the beginning of every class, students new to the routine rush into the library, eyes wide, a little shocked at the news that "library book" has now been added to the list of first-day school supplies.  Students who are accustomed to the reading period routine still wait until the last minute to make their selections; the result is that the most popular titles are simply not available. 

I thought of titling this post: "What to read when all the copies of Divergent  are checked out."  Last year, I could have just substituted Hunger Games for the title; seven years ago, Twilight.  Particularly in the late summer/early autumn, there are always a few teen books that are wildly popular, making it difficult for us librarians to keep enough copies available. 

So, what follows are some suggested substitutions for this year's most popular titles. . . . or, what your teen patron can read, and be engaged with, when all the copies of Divergent are checked out:

For those readers who are looking for Divergent, by Veronica Roth -- This is a currently popular example of dystopia, a genre wildly popular since the buzz created by Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy.  (Reviewed in this blog here .)  Some newer dystopian titles to read instead of the Divergent trilogy include:

* Legend trilogy, by Marie Lu
* Dustlands trilogy, by Moira Young
* Insignia by S. J. Kincaid
* Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
* Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

For those readers looking for The Giver, by Lois Lowry -- Some patrons are surprised to find that this classic YA novel has been around since 1993, and is one of several predecessors for the dytopia genre.  (For a more complete review of Lowry's entire series, click here.)  Nonetheless, the current movie has made the old new again;  look for these older titles when Lowry's masterpiece is not available:

* Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
* Feed  by M. T. Anderson
* Lord of the Flies by William Golding
* 1984 by George Orwell
* Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

For those readers looking for City of Bones, or the Mortal Instruments series, by Cassandra Clare -- Both this series, and its prequel series, The Infernal Devices, employ a compelling blend of paranormal characters, dangerous plot, and romantic setting.  The genre of steampunk -- a blend of history and fantasy/sci-fi -- does this combination well.  When Clare's books are not on the shelf, try these instead:

* Steampunk Chronicles series, by Kady Cross
* Finishing School series, by Gail Carriger
* Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series by Andrew Lane
* The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent
* Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

For those readers looking for The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan -- Riordan's series hold appeal for lovers of fantasy.  The blend of mythological creatures and action-packed adventure particularly entices younger readers, those who are not quite ready for high fantasy.  Depending on the age and interest of the reader, the following selections also offer monsters, action, and fantastical settings, in varying degrees:

* The Syrena Legacy by Anna Banks (for more mature readers)
* Loki's Wolves by Kelley Armstrong
* Peter & the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry
* Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
* Warrior Heir series by Cinda Williams Chima

For those readers looking for The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green -- Some patrons looking for Green's book are simply looking for anything that isn't dystopia or paranormal!  Others really are looking for books about strong characters dealing with disease or disability.  Try one of the following selections:

* Me & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
* Deadline by Chris Crutcher
* Going Bovine  by Libba Bray
* The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
* The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

For readers who are looking for If I Stay by Gayle Forman -- Again, this is a little older novel (2007) enjoying renewed popularity because of the attention of Hollywood: the movie version of Forman's story is out this month.  The novel, reviewed in this blog here, tells the story of a girl faced with an impossible choice in the aftermath of a devastating car accident.  Similar stories that will appeal to teen readers include:

* Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin
* The Princesses of Iowa, by M. Molly Backes
* Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
* The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson
 * Tears of a Tiger, Sharon Draper

Finally, for readers who are looking for The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak -- Actually, this title's current popularity seems to be due to adult, rather than teen, check-outs.  The award-winning novel of Nazi Germany, told from Death's perspective and via the story of a girl who steals books, has some equally compelling historical fiction companions on the shelves right now:

* Daniel, Half-Human by David Chotjewitz
* Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
* Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
* Yellow Star, by Jennifer Roy
* Run, Boy, Run: a novel, by Uri Orlev

So . . . I've listed 35 possible titles that might help those students who just don't know what to read as the school year begins.  Hopefully, one of the above choices will appeal, and will lead to other great selections.  If you'd like to do some other research on your own, check out our Novelist database, available on this website, or at this link:  www.ccpls.info.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July Teen Summer Reading -- Spark a Reaction

The month of July has continued to be busy in the Teen Room!  We've offered our summer reading incentive program, various weekly clubs, and drop-in afternoon activities all month long.  Although we continue to offer the reading incentives and club opportunities through August, we are now finished with the drop-in afternoon activities.  However, teens who have enjoyed playing with science, art and their own creativity during these activities can still find novels in the YA collection to feed their interests. 

Spark a Reaction: Chemical Reactions -- During this week, teens experimented with chemical reactions that caused soda to freeze instantly, and laundry detergent to from crystals.  In YA literature, the science of chemistry forms the backdrop for many compelling stories, particularly in dystopian novels that explore chemical and genetic experiments gone awry.  Readers interested in chemical and genetic engineering might enjoy one of these selections:

  • Jekel Loves Hyde, by Beth Fantaskey
  • Vitro by Jessica Khoury
  • Beta by Rachel Cohn
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
  • Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
  • Altered by Jennifer Rush

Spark a Reaction: Glowing Reactions -- The activities this week were more about creative fun than science:  teens were able to make glow-in-the-dark slime and glowing lanterns, and to give themselves a "glowing" manicure!  However, the idea of glowing makes me think of stars and planets,  and recently, YA fiction has seen a resurgence of science fiction about space, alien invasions, and extraterrestrial life.  If "Star Wars" appeals to you, you might enjoy:

  • Glow series by Amy Kathleen Ryan
  • Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
  • Galahad series by Dom Testa
  • The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
  • Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Spark a Reaction: Survival Reactions -- "Survival skills" can mean anything to today's teens:  from surviving junior high school, to wilderness survival, to living through a zombie apocalypse.  Our drop-in activities focused on creating survival gear from duct tape, braiding survival bracelets, and cooking s'mores in solar ovens.  In recent years, YA fiction has exploded with titles that use survival skills as a plot device; obviously, The Hunger Games is one exceptionally popular example, but there are many more.  Teens who enjoy gritty stories of endurance and resourcefulness should try these lesser-known titles:

  • Ashfall series by Mike Mullin
  • Stung by Bethany Wiggins
  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
  • Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The Living  by Matt de la Peña

Hopefully, the above lists of titles will spark more reading, and more lists of suggested titles!  For teens in Gillette, remember that we will draw for our grand prize baskets during our final summer reading event, August 6 from 1 to 4 p.m., so be sure to get your tickets in!  Following that final event, we'll still offer our reading incentives until school starts. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June Teen Summer Reading - Spark A Reaction

Hmmm. . . it appears this blogger has been a bit remiss in her duties.  In youth library services, spring and summer are times of increased levels of program planning and interaction with our patrons, so there is less time for reading and reviewing literature than in the fall and winter. At least, that's my excuse for not writing these last few months!

Here in the Teen Room, we are nearly one month into a very busy summer of club meetings, a reading program, drop-in afternoon activities, and volunteer opportunities. In this blog post, I'd like to link some of these popular activities with potential reading selections, so that patrons who enjoyed a particular activity can find a book with similar themes and subject matter.

Spark a Reaction: Chain Reactions.  All summer, our drop-in afternoon activities are emphasizing creativity and imagination, the idea that one thought or person can spark an entirely new idea or reaction.  For the first week of our drop-in activities, teens were able to innovate with our 3D printer pen and LittleBits, create with chalkboard paint, and collaborate with one another in clubs and a book discussion. This was also the week of our Robotics Club launch, very exciting for some of our newer patrons.  Teens who particularly enjoy creating with technology -- or exploring the impact technology can/could have on the human race -- may enjoy these fiction selections:
  • BZRK series Michael Grant
  • Homeland by Cory Doctorow
  • Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve
  • Mila 2.0 by Debra Drizza
One Book, One Teen Room discussion.  We concluded our first One Book, One Teen Room promotion early in the summer with a discussion of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  With the popularity of this title, we aren't able to keep any of John Green's novels on our shelves for long!  While TFioS deals with the very heavy subject of childhood cancer, Green's other novels deal with additional realistic topics relevant to teens' lives.  If you are a reader who likes the realistic fiction genre, you aren't restricted to John Green! Try one of these novels, too:
  • Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon
  • Please Ignore Viera Dietz by A. S. King
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You by Joyce Carol Oates

Spark a Reaction: Rhythmic Reactions.  In our second week of drop-in activities, patrons were encouraged to explore the science involved in music, and to create their own musical instruments and accessories.  While listening to music is a huge part of teen culture, not too many YA novels write about teen musicians. Here are four -- one dystopia, one realistic fiction, one historical fiction, and one fantasy -- that all portray the importance of music in teens' lives:
  • Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony
  • Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
  • Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Spark a Reaction: Electric Reactions. As I type this, we are finishing up our third week fo drop-in activities, this time with a focus on electricity, batteries and circuitry. Patrons have been able to use litmus paper to test soda acidity, create batteries with zinc, copper and fruit, and invent jewelry using bits and pieces of old appliances.  For those teen patrons who enjoy learning about all sciences, these science fiction novels will continue to "spark" their interest:
  • Michael Vey series, by Richard Paul Evans
  • Delirium trilogy, by Lauren Oliver
  • Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer
  • Lorien Legacies, by Pittacus Lore
In the CCPL Teen Room, we'll take a break from our drop-in programming next week, although all clubs will be meeting at their regular times. Beginning the second week of July, we'll continue our afternoon activities with "Spark a Reaction: Chemical Reactions."  All teens entering 7th through 12th grade are welcome to join us, and to participate in our summer reading program to earn great prizes!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time to Vote!! Soaring Eagle voting period February 15 through March 15

Teens in 7th through 12th grade who have read three books from the 2013-2014 list of Soaring Eagle nominees are invited to vote for their favorite, now until March 15.  Voting takes place at both school and public libraries throughout Wyoming.  Teens are also invited to nominate other titles for next year's Soaring Eagle list.

A complete list of this year's nominees (reviewed in the last several months in this blog) follows:

Rise of the Elgen (Michael Vey, #2) by Richard Paul Evans
Outcasts (Brotherband Chronicles, #1) by John Flanagan
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
BZRK by Michael Grant
Tiger's Curse (Tiger's Curse, #1)  by Colleen Houck
Framed by Gordon Korman
Legend (Legend Trilogy, #1) by Marie Lu
Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1) by Melina Marchetta
Rot and Ruin (Benny Imura, #1) by Jonathan Maberry
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Everlost (Skinjacker Trilogy, #1) by Neal Shusterman
I, Q.: Kitty Hawk (I,Q., #3) by Roland Smith
Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater

Happy voting!