Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May Day Reads

Where I live, there usually aren't enough flowers in bloom to create May Day baskets.  No matter -- in the Young Adult department, yesterday was still a day of gifts as May 1 book releases came into our Teen Room.  

Early- and mid-May are popular times for release of new children's and young adult books, as most libraries across the country are gearing up for summer reading programs.  We here at the Campbell County Public Library are no different: in both Youth Services areas, staff members are planning activities, decorating rooms, and, particularly, checking the items in our collection to be sure we have what our patrons will want to read. 

And from browsing those new books coming into the room, as well as lists of books yet to be released this month, it appears that teens are still mostly wanting to read books that are published as series.  In fact, book series are so popular among young adults that we have three special pull-out shelves in our room to highlight them.  Our three-person staff spends a lot of time tracking and maintaining that series collection, to be sure the existing books are in good condition, and the new books arrive when they are supposed to.  If we miss some -- believe me, we will hear about it!  Teens are very in tune to popular media, and know exact release dates for their favorite authors and series.

 Series books rate high in importance to teens for several reasons:
* They identify with the main character or group of characters, and want to find out what happens next;
* They enjoy the plot and action of the book and want more of the same;
* They learn the complexities of a book's setting, language, and structure with the first installment, and can then move more easily through successive books; 
* In the same vein, they acquire familiarity with a particular author's style and feel drawn to his or her writing. 

In case any of the above reasons make series books sound unchallenging, realize that reading mastery happens in two ways:  by reading difficult books to gain increased reading skill; and by reading books at our current level to gain increased reading fluency.  Although some parents will want to challenge their reader to more difficult texts during the summer, most parents and educators will agree that maintaining fluency at a current reading level is a good goal for a teen during summer break. 

All that being said, have your teen (or you!) check out some of these May 1 installments of popular YA series:

Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan (Kane Chronicles, #3) -- If your reader loved Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, introduce this one as well.  In the first installment, The Red Pyramid, siblings Carter and Sadie are living separate lives after their mother's death -- until the night their father, a renowned Egyptologist, brings them together on a tour of the British Museum.  Dr. Kane disappears under very mysterious circumstances; Carter and Sadie are kidnapped; and it appears that five Egyptian gods are released into the modern world to destroy it.  Carter and Sadie discover the secrets of their family heritage and their own abilities to work magic, embarking on a quest to save humanity from the destructive forces of the Egyptian gods.  True to form, Riordan has researched Egyptian mythology extensively, and incorporates it into the story in ways that appeal to modern readers.  Three volumes in this series: Red Pyramid; Throne of Fire; and now, Serpent's Shadow.

The Invaders by John Flangan (Brotherband Chronicles, #2) --   I am an avid fan of Flanagan's first series, The Ranger's Apprentice. (reviewed in this blog in November, 2010)
In the Brotherband Chronicles, Flanagan is again creating historical fantasy -- using real places, times and peoples in his own re-named fantasy world.  Ranger's Apprentice introduced us to the Skandians, a people whose geography and lifestyle were based on the Vikings of far northern Europe.  While the Skandians were secondary characters in the original series, they are the main players in this spin-off.  The Outcasts, the first book in this new series, follows the misadventures of three teenage Skandian boys who, because of their small size and lack of strength, live as outcasts among their peers. However, they are entrusted to an important duty by Erak the Oberjarl, who sees in them the same skill and intelligence he came to respect in Will Treaty, his friend and original Ranger's Apprentice.  Fans of Flanagan's earlier work will enjoy his rich vocabulary and historical plot twists; the Brotherband Chronicles features two installments so far -- The Outcasts and The Invaders.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Divergent Trilogy, #2) -- I just finished reading the first installment in this trilogy, Divergent, for a state-wide book award committee; I am excited to be able to read the second!  Dystopian literature is so popular among teens right now, due in part to the Hunger Games fervor, and this series is a good "next-read" for teens who loved The Hunger Games trilogy.  In this world, set in post-apocalyptic Chicago, society has divided itself into four factions, based on the human quality that each group values above all others: Candor values honesty; Erudite values intelligence; Dauntless values bravery; and Abnegation values selflessness. As teenagers come of age, they are subjected to aptitude tests to determine which of the four factions would be the best fit. Their results are secret, however, so that on Choosing Day they can select to remain with the faction in which they've been raised, or they can choose a new faction based on their test. If they do leave their faction of origin, they generally do not see their families again; one of this society's most basic rules is "faction before family." For Beatrice, who has been raised in Abnegation, the prospect of leaving her family for a faction that would perhaps be a better fit for her induces extreme guilt. When she is given the aptitude test, however, she finds out that she could choose three factions: she is Divergent, meaning she tests equally well for Abnegation, Erudite, and Dauntless. Being Divergent in this society is extremely dangerous, and most Divergents are killed before they threaten the status-quo. She is warned to keep her results secret. On Choosing Day, she leaves her family and Abnegation, and chooses to become Dauntless. She even shortens her name to Tris to reflect leaving behind her old identity. This initial choice is only the beginning of her struggle, however; she discovers that training to be a part of Dauntless, and making this faction's brutal final cut, will test her physically, mentally and emotionally. As she lives among the often-cruel Dauntless, she learns that while they value bravery, they do not show much compassion or empathy; it is difficult for her to trust anyone, and she is careful to keep her true identity hidden. More insidious than the brutality, however, are the threats of revolution that seem to be coming from Dauntless leaders. The new book, Insurgent, will presumably pick up where Divergent left off, with revolution and a country in chaos.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Graceling, #3) -- It is not technically correct to call this the third installment in a series: instead, in a complex and wonderfully-developed fantasy world, this book is actually a sequel to Graceling, and a companion to Fire. (reviewed in this blog in February, 2011, and December, 2011, respectively) I am reading this book right now; can't wait to finish it!  We last saw the main character, Bitterblue, in Graceling, when Katsa killed her evil father, King Leck.  Leck had a long and cruel reign, beginning with the atrocities he committed toward his own father in Fire.  Now, it is up to Bitterblue to heal her country from her father's legacy.  Knowing Cashore's themes from the earlier two books, I expect Bitterblue will have to confront her own fears -- namely, using gifts she is ashamed of (due to her male ancestors' evil legacies) to  do good work in the world.  The world of the Seven Kingdoms is wondrous and beautiful, and Cashore's female protagonists are complex and strong -- ensuring that Bitterblue  will be a great fantasy read for both girls and boys.

There will be even more Young Adult fiction series releases later in May; be sure to stop by the library to check some of them out.


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