Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mystery and Magic

Halloween is one week away, as evidenced by the spooky decorations that have taken up residence in the Teen Room. We've been decorated since early October because of our Teen Read Week celebration last week; the teens enjoyed dressing up in creepy costumes and eating some rather un-appetizing snacks.  Our book display featured books about nasty creatures -- zombies, wendigos, and demons -- all linked to the week's theme, "It Came from the Library."

However, Halloween is as much about mystery and magic as it is about undead creatures and gory images.  Keeping that in mind, there are three books on this year's list of Soaring Eagle nominations that seem appropriate for the week before Halloween. 

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand. Clare Gardner has visions; some of them are frightening, and all of them are, she thinks, significant. After all, Clare is no ordinary human being. She is a Quartarius, a quarter-angel, and has just begun to come into her powers. Her mother supports her and helps her piece together the meaning behind her visions. Therefore, when Clare begins to repeatedly see a boy, a fire, and a county-22 Wyoming license plate, her mother moves the family from California to Jackson Hole.  In Jackson, Clare meets the boy from her vision, a new friend, and another angel -- who may not be as good as Clare thinks. Both Clare and her mother believe her purpose in being on earth has something to do with the vision; but will Clare be able to focus on discovering that purpose and not get distracted by high school, cliques, and a cute cowboy who has attracted her attention?  Unearthly is another paranormal romance, a good choice for fans of the Twilight and Hush, Hush series. It's sequel, Hallowed, was released last winter; the projected end to the trilogy, Boundless, will be out in 2013.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. Eona has been trained in magic and sword-work, so that she can be presented as one of twelve candidates to be her country's next Dragoneye, a keeper of culture and magical power.  Unfortunately, women are never allowed to be Dragoneyes, or even to approach the sacred circle; the penalty is immediate death. Eona and her master have undertaken a great risk in her training, and so have gone to elaborate lengths to conceal her gender, and her true nature. When the day of the choosing comes, the unexpected happens: not only is Eona selected to be ascendant Dragoneye, but she is also chosen by a mysterious thirteenth dragon -- a dragon who has not appeared in 500 years. Now, Eona and her master must continue their elaborate deception, while they find a way to learn of the dragon's power, even though there is no living being who can teach them.  Danger, intrigue, and magic combine in this tale of ancient Asian culture; the sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is Eona: The Last Dragoneye. Fans of both the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan and the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams-Chima have been enjoying this duology.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.  Andi is a wreck. She's brilliant, a borderline genius with incredible musical talent. But she cannot recover from a family tragedy, or the unraveling of her family life. She's failing at her exclusive private school; her mother is not coping with everyday life; and her father is too busy with his international career to notice. That is, until Andi's potential expulsion is brought to his attention. He acts decisively, whisking her away to Paris while he his on assignment there, so that she can complete her senior thesis on an obscure French composer. Andi hates her father, and hates being in Paris . . . until she finds a mysterious diary that belonged to another girl, much like Andi. This girl, Alexandrine, writes of the French Revolution as it is happening, and presents a first-hand account of one of the mysteries of the Revolution that still confounds historians. Andi becomes immersed in the drama and horror of Alexandrine's world, and her perception of reality becomes dangerously skewed. Does she, or does she not, see the ghosts of the Revolution?  (For more on this title, see the March 3, 2012, entry of this blog.) This stand-alone novel is an excellent choice for fans of historical fiction, but be aware that the content is more mature than some of the other nominees.

So, if you, like me, prefer your blood and gore in small doses, why not enjoy one of these less-gory, but still suspenseful, novels this Halloween . . .and leave the icky images to the haunted houses?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 Soaring Eagle book award nominees

It's already been a very busy fall in the Teen Room, with school visits, outreach programs, and regular clubs and activities.  Now that we are nearing mid-October, we are preparing to  celebrate Teen Read Week -- a national campaign sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association to encourage teens to "read for the fun of it." Unfortunately, teens are often required to read books they don't really enjoy -- a pattern that leads to a dislike for reading that lasts well beyond high school. Librarians -- and probably, many teachers and parents -- would like to shift the focus so that, by encouraging teens to read materials they enjoy, they will naturally build the amount of reading they do, leading to higher comprehension and fluency.

One great way Wyoming libraries do this is through the Soaring Eagle book award program, sponsored by the Wyoming Library Association and the Wyoming Reading Council. As I've stated before in this blog, this book award program takes its nominations and it voting results directly from Wyoming students in grades 7 through 12.  Students submit titles for nominations in the spring; once those titles are reviewed by a committee, a final list is presented to teens the next fall.  Those teens who read at least three titles on the list are then encouraged to vote for their favorite the following March.

Because the nominations come directly from teens, these titles are more likely to grab their attention and help them enjoy what they are reading -- in other words, to "read for the fun of it."

This year, there are 14 titles on the list of nominations. While not all of them are funny, they are engaging, suspenseful, and thought-provoking -- all qualities of good literature.  Teens, if you are looking for something new to read, give one of these titles a try:  they are all nominated by kids your age, so what better recommendation can there be?  Parents and teachers, why not try a title or two yourself?  Depending on the title you choose, you may be surprised at the quality and insight of the writing.

This week, I'll focus on only two of this year's nominees, and I'll start with the two that are the most "fun." There will be plenty of time to get to the more serious nominees later!

Lost Hero by Rick Riordan:  Fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians will be pleased to know that the adventures continue in this spin-off of Riordan's best-selling series. The five-book Percy Jackson series brought the gods and monsters of Greek mythology into a modern, real-world setting.  In Lost Hero, Percy Jackson has disappeared, and a mysterious boy named Jason Grace enters the scene. The problem is, Jason has amnesia, so cannot remember who he is, or why is in on a Wilderness Bus headed to the Grand Canyon. The truth is revealed, however, and Jason and his two friends soon discover their demigod status, as well as their quest to save the gods from disaster. Riordan's writing style is fast-paced and suspenseful, with just enough humor to keep both teens and adults entertained.  Already there are two sequels to Lost Hero: The Son of Neptune and Mark of Athena. Try the entire Heroes of Olympus series if you are a fan of Riordan's other work; this is also a great choice for fans of the 39 Clues series who are ready for something a bit older.

Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson:  Patterson, famous for his novels for adult and older teen audiences, turns his attention to a younger teen audience with this new series.  The main character, Rafe Khatchadorian, struggles with his home life, but middle school is no better. Together with his only friend, "Leo the Silent," Rafe hatches a plan to make his sixth-grade year the best ever, by breaking every school rule listed in the code of conduct.  Adding both humor and perspective to Rafe's narration are the in-text illustrations by artist Christopher Tebbetts.  Borrowing from the example of Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which was written for an older audience, Patterson teams with Tebbetts to create an illustrated novel that tackles difficult subjects by interjecting healthy doses of levity.  Give this novel, and its sequel, Middle School: Let Me Out of Here!, a try if you are a fan of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Hopefully, these first two entries in our list of 2012 Soaring Eagle nominees will entice reluctant teens to read a novel just "for the fun of it."