Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Americas

This week in the Teen Room, we've been visiting The Americas: primarily Canada, the United States, and Mexico.  We've eaten hot dogs and maple cookies, voted for our favorite hot salsa, and created duct-tape luggage tags, to name a few activities.

The Young Adult collection is, of course, filled with novels that take place in the United States. Here, however, are some that highlight unique cultural or geographic aspects of American culture:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie:  In this award-winning book, Alexie writes about the struggles of Arnold Spirit, Jr., to maintain ties to his Indian tribe while still pursuing his own hopes and dreams. When Arnold chooses to leave the reservation for a chance to attend a better school, will he be alone forever?

Phantoms in the Snow, by Kathleen Benner Duble:  In 1944, a 15-year-old orphan boy has few options for survival. Noah has been raised a pacifist, but his only family is an uncle who lives in a remote U. S. Army camp in Colorado.  Forced to live there, Noah must reconcile his upbringing with his current situation, and train to be part of an elite corps of winter soldier known as the Phantoms.

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles:  It's 1962 and it seems that everyone is living in fear. Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, and can feel the fear of the nation in the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amid the pervading threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits into her family, and learn to look beyond outward appearance. 

Love is the Higher Law, by David Levithan: Three New York City teenagers struggle to come of age amid the chaos and aftermath of September 11. Peter's, Claire's, and Jasper's lives weave together as they come to terms with a new reality. 

We also have an abundance of titles set in Central or South America.  Although the main focus is on the  stories, these novels also give the reader a slice of culture and philosophy:

The Queen of Water, by Laura Resau: Living in a village in Ecuador, a Quechua Indian girl is sent to work as an indentured servant for an upper class "mestizo" family.  

Finding Miracles, by Julia Alvarez: Milly Kaufman is an ordinary American teenager living in Vermont-until she meets Pablo, a new student at her high school. His exotic accent, strange fashion sense, and intense interest in Milly force her to confront her identity as an adopted child from Pablo’s native country. 

Muchacho, by Louanne Johnson:  Eddie Corazon is angry. He's also very smart. But he's working pretty hard at being a juvenile delinquent. He blows off school, even though he's a secret reader. He hangs with his cousins, who will always back him up -- when they aren't in jail. Then along comes Lupe, who makes his blood race. She sees something in Eddie that he doesn't even see in himself.  

Finally, try one of these titles, both set in Canada:

Half-Brother, by Kenneth Oppel:  Oppel deviates from his usual fantasy fiction in this tale. The main character, Ben, is less than thrilled that his 13th birthday includes moving across Canada and getting a new "half brother"-a baby chimpanzee named Zan that Ben's father, a behavioral psychologist, will be raising like a human to determine if chimps can learn sign language. Gradually, Ben comes around, learning more about Zan and chimps, but he still struggles with his social life in his new school, his parents' high expectations, and Zan's role in their lives-is he family or just an "animal test subject?"

Blink and Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones:  Blink and Caution are two teenage runaways in Toronto. Blink is getting by day to day by stealing breakfast leftovers from room-service trays in a fancy hotel when he accidentally observes a faked kidnapping of a wealthy CEO. Caution is on the run from an abusive and possessive drug-dealer boyfriend when she meets Blink. She falls in with him at first because she thinks he will be an easy mark, but finds herself strangely drawn to him. Blink, however, is obsessed with the kidnapping he witnessed, and the media storm surrounding it. 

As I stated, there are many, many YA titles set in the Americas -- too many to list here.  Try one of these, or come to the library so we can help you find one that suits you.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Greek Week

It's summer reading time here in the Campbell County Library Teen Room -- easily our busiest time of the year.  If you have a teen, or are a teen, come by to pick up a summer reading log and start earning prizes for reading.  Our theme this summer is "You Are Here."  Since it's summer, we thought it would be fun to take a little vacation, at least in our imaginations.  So, "Here" will be a different location each week.  Every weekday afternoon,  teens can stop by to "visit" another locale:  we will offer trivia contests, crafts, games and, of course, food from each place.

This week has been Greek Week, and we've had a good time pretending to be in Ancient Greece every afternoon.  Teens have demonstrated their knowledge of Greek mythology (or their research skills about Greek mythology); created a "Trojan Horse" craft; learned how to tie a toga; and tasted new-to-them foods such as hummus, feta cheese, and kalamata olives.

And, of course, we have been featuring books about Greek mythology.  If you or your teen has not been able to stop in, we probably won't be able to offer them any hummus, but we can still offer these great Greek books to read:

If you haven't heard of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series yet, perhaps you've been trapped in Polyphemus' cave for the last few years? Rick Riordan can be credited with a large resurgence in teens' interest in mythology, simply through this series.  In it, we meet Percy, one of those kids who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and always getting into trouble. When there is a major incident at his school, he discovers that the reason for his trouble is not his dyslexia, his bad luck, or his reputation: rather, it's his heritage.  His mother is mortal, but his father just happens to be Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. This fact makes Percy a demigod, and also a target for the wrath of assorted other gods and creatures.  Thus begin Percy's adventures, starting with The Lightning Thief and continuing through five books.  The books have been so popular that Riordan is now working on two other series: the Lost Heroes of Olympus series follows some of the lesser characters in the Percy Jackson books; and the Kane Chronicles series focuses on Egyptian, rather than Greek, mythology.

Before Riordan, however, other authors were re-telling the ancient tales of Greek mythology for teens. One older book featured this week is Voyage with Jason by Ken Catran, copyright 2006.  It the story of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. The original version of the story is not accessible to some teen readers: told as an epic poem, it features archaic language and structures that can be confusing.  Catran's version retells the story in first-person narrative, more easily comprehensible for an average teen reader; yet it retains the elements of the story that have cultural and literary significance.

Another retelling of ancient stories comes from Adele Geras, in her novels Troy and Ithaka. Both novels tell traditional stories -- that of the Trojan War and of Odysseus' long voyage back to Ithaka -- but through the eyes of the women involved in the stories rather than the men.  This is a major departure from Homer's original oral versions of the epics; few women, other than the goddess Athena, played a major role there.  Still, Geras manages to maintain enough literacy authenticity that a reader of these novels still comes away with an understanding of the original stories.

Those original stories are adapted for even more accessibility in two graphic novels that we featured this week: The Iliad, adapted by Roy Thomas and Miguel Angel Sepulveda, and The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds. I've written and spoken before in favor of these illustrated versions of classic stories: they offer a framework to shape readers' understanding of the classics. Usually, these adaptations are shorter, but retain enough of the original story to be authentic. Both the Thomas and the Hinds adaptations do re-write Homer's original poetic language; while I prefer the original, I would have loved to have these versions as teaching resources when my students struggled to understand Homer. If nothing else, readers could gain enough of the original stories to develop a cultural intelligence about them; and perhaps some will even be inspired to attempt the originals.

The final two books featured during Greek Week are perhaps my own favorites: Nobody's Princess and its sequel, Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner.  In these two novels, Friesner weaves history, mythology, and a lot of imagination to create a story about Helen, the girl destined to spark the infamous Trojan War.  We might see Helen of Troy as fickle, shrinking, weak . . . but Friesner paints an entirely different picture of a young woman who is independent and strong.  The story becomes an interesting perception of a cultural legend.  Following Riordan's lead, Friesner has authored two newer books about an Egyptian heroine: Sphinx's Princess and Sphinx's Queen, about the legendary Nefertiti.

So, grab a great YA novel and brush up on your remembering of Greek mythology.  It's a fun way to pass a summer day!  Next week, we return home to visit the Americas -- look for more great books then.