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Handicapping the Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King Awards

Code Name VerityThe Mighty Miss MaloneI Have a DreamThe most prestigious awards for children's literature, and literature for teens, will be announced by the American Library Association at the Midwinter meeting in Seattle next Monday. A longstanding tradition of fans of literature for young people is guessing which titles will receive these prizes, which guarantee a sort of immortality for the books. "Honor" books, or runners-up, will also be announced for each category. One of these is the Michael L. Printz Award, given for literary excellence in the field of books published for teens aged 12-18. Some of the top contenders for the Printz Award include Elizabeth Wein's tour de force, Code Name Verity, a historical novel set in the World War II era; Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King, which infuses elements of magical realism into a story of a teen girl coming to terms with her sexuality; Steve Sheinkin's Bomb, an engrossing history of the development of the atomic bomb; and The Fault in Our Stars, John Green's popular novel about two teens with cancer forging a friendship and romance against difficult odds.

 

Another is the Coretta Scott King awards, given to African-American authors and illustrators for excellence in the field. Front runners for the author award include Newbery Award winner Christopher Paul Curtis' The Mighty Miss Malone, the Depression-era story of a 12-year-old girl's family facing tough times; Pinned, about the first girl on the school's wrestling team, by Sharon Flake; No Crystal Stair, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, an autobiographical novel about a famous Harlem bookseller, and Brian F. Walker's look into the pros and cons of scholarship and diversity in Black Boy White School. Kadir Nelson, a previous Coretta Scott King award winner, is again a leading contender in the illustrator category for I Have a Dream, a rendition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial; E.B. Lewis' haunting illustrations of passive bullying in Each Kindness; Shane W. Evans for We March, also about the March on Washington in 1963; and Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington, covering his journey to learn to read and eventually become a scientist, illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Todd

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Sea Swept

Sea Swept

posted by:
January 22, 2013 - 8:01am

The Brides of Rollrock IslandPrimarily found in Scottish and Irish folklore, Selkies are seals who have shed their skin to reveal an enigmatic human form. Australian author Margo Lanagan makes the Selkie myth her own in the transporting novel The Brides of Rollrock Island. The youngest of seven, Misskaella Prout is clearly a different kind of child. Her dying grandmother warns that with her unusual looks, she “harks back” and will be difficult to marry. As she becomes a young woman, Misskaella discovers she has the unique power to draw handsome men and beautiful women from out of the seals that come up on the rocks at the base of the cliff at Crescent Corner.

 

The men of the remote Rollrock Island are eager to pay a high price for one of sea witch Misskaella’s attractive, eligible women. Obedient, devoted, and servile, they make excellent wives and mothers. But these brides suffer a deep melancholy, as they long to return to the sea and take their true form. The author tells her story from the points of view of five different characters over the course of several decades, and each has been affected in their own way by the introduction of the Selkie wives.

 

A two-time recipient of the Printz honor medal for excellence in young adult literature, Lanagan is known for her evocative, poetic language and her ability to bring a foreign setting alive through vivid detail. The Brides of Rollrock Island is a standout novel for teens that should find crossover appeal for adults who enjoy a rich, well-crafted story with familiar folkloric roots.

Paula G.

 
 

A Fairy Tale with a Twist

A Fairy Tale with a Twist

posted by:
January 15, 2013 - 8:45am

Princess of the Silver WoodsThe Princess of the Silver Woods, the final novel in Jessica Day George’s trilogy showcasing Westfalian royalty, is part Little Red Riding Hood, part Twelve Dancing Princesses. In this book, readers follow Petunia, the youngest of the dancing princesses who readers first met back in book one, Princess of the Midnight Ball. After escaping the curse of the King Under Stone in the Midnight Ball, the twelve dancing princesses have gone on to lead fairly normal lives...for princesses, anyway.

 

Petunia is on her way to visit the Grand Duchess and her grandson when she is kidnapped by Oliver, a young man who claims to be an earl, whose property was wrongfully taken away. At the same time, she and her sisters begin to have frequent dreams about the King Under Stone. Knowing something nefarious is surely afoot, the Westfalian princesses, along with their respective princes, must again fight against evil to stop the King Under Stone once and for all.

 

Jessica Day George takes a fairytale that has been told over and over, and turns it on its head, much like she did with Cinderella in the middle book of the trilogy, Princess of Glass. Despite knowing the original story, readers are captivated, unsure what will happen next. Fans of retellings of fairy tales, like Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, will surely enjoy this novel. Princess of the Silver Woods is a funny, well-written, captivating story, that teen and adult readers alike will enjoy.

Laura

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A New Kind of Sibling Rivalry

A New Kind of Sibling Rivalry

posted by:
January 8, 2013 - 8:55am

What's Left of MeThe world which Kat Zhang creates in her dystopian debut, What’s Left of Me, is in many ways similar to our own. The biggest difference is when a person is born, two souls exist within each body. After years of war, the government decided to put a stop to this, and created programs to force the souls to settle -- in other words, to get rid of the weaker soul. Children are taught that this is normal, and that having two souls is not. Adults reinforce that hybrids, those with two souls in one body, are evil and create problems in the world, and therefore should be turned over to authorities so they can be fixed.

What’s Left of Me is told from the perspective of Eva, a non-dominant soul, who has refused to settle. Her dominant counterpart, Addie, is afraid of being discovered as a hybrid, but Eva wants to maintain her sense of power. Eva and Addie end up meeting others like them, which only leads to more trouble. After being sent away with their new friends to be “fixed” by the government, Eva and Addie learn what the government has really been doing with hybrids and they join the movement against it.

Kat Zhang’s first novel is a smart, well-told story that leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next novel in the Hybrid Chronicles. The sibling relationship between Eva and Addie and the friendships that they form with other hybrids like them make their experience seem not so far-fetched. Fans of dystopias will surely enjoy this unique new novel.

Laura

 
 

The Powers Within

The Powers Within

posted by:
January 8, 2013 - 8:45am

The Darkest MindsChildren are getting sick in Alexandra Bracken’s new title The Darkest Minds. They are leaving school and never coming back, victims of a mysterious illness. Adults are afraid of the ones who are not sick, the ones who have developed special "abilities". These survivors are rounded up and sent to rehabilitation camps where they are tested, sorted, and imprisoned. Sorted into groups by color (corresponding to ability), the children are forced to work, fed little, and often tortured. Ruby learns right away that orange is a bad color to be, so she pretends to be green. Human touch awakens her ability—at best she can erase people’s memories, at worst she can force thoughts into their heads. At long last she is given the chance to escape, but is life on the run any better than life inside the camp?

 

Bracken does an especially good job of giving her characters unique and believable voices. Under different circumstances, these kids would be superheroes. Instead, Bracken shows us a society that is afraid of differences as various power-hungry groups vie for control of the children and the power they possess. Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series or Kathy Reichs’ Virals books will be thrilled to find this new science-based adventure, the first in a series.      

Sam

 
 

I See Dead People

I See Dead People

posted by:
December 18, 2012 - 9:01am

The Raven Boys"There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark's Eve," Neeve said. "Either you're his true love . . . or you killed him."

 

Thus begins The Raven Boys, the newest book by New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Boys are the students of Aglionby Academy, a prestigious private school in Henrietta, Virginia. They are easily identified by the raven-emblemed sweaters they wear, as well as the haughty air that drips off them like the millions they are being groomed to inherit. A quartet of boys, led by Gansey, has broken off from the pack in a quest to find an ancient king. Using unorthodox methods, they search for the “lay line” that will connect them to the dormant spirit of the sleeping Welsh King Glendower. Frustrated by a lack of success, they decide to try visiting a local psychic.

 

Blue Sargent also lives in Henrietta, the only non-seer in a family of mediums. All of her life she has wished for just a fraction of psychic ability, a chance to truly fit in to her strange but loving family. As she attends her aunt Neeve in the graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, she is shocked when she sees the spirit of a boy moving toward the church. When she asks his name, he replies only “Gansey.” As Blue tries to understand the warning from her aunt predicting love or death, her and Gansey’s worlds collide when the boys arrive at her door.  

 

While the correlating stories of Blue’s lack of ability and Gansey’s quest drive the action, the true delights in The Raven Boys lie in the familial relationships of the novel. The house full of women provides a creative yet chaotic environment for Blue, with a nurturing that borders on overprotectiveness. For Gansey, family is one of his creation, and the misfit group is a unique brotherhood of support without condition. Stiefvater has created a tale that is half coming-of-age story and half ghost story, equally spine-tingling and satisfying. Fans of her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy will find much to enjoy here with more to come, as this is the first of a planned trilogy.

Sam

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The Truth about Mara Dyer

The Truth about Mara Dyer

posted by:
December 18, 2012 - 8:45am

The Evolution of Mara DyerThe Evolution of Mara Dyer, the second in Michelle Hodkin’s Mara Dyer trilogy picks up just one day after the first book ends. Mara has been committed to a psychiatric unit after her outburst in a police station, in which she announced that her dead ex-boyfriend was alive, and assumed responsibility for the deaths of her friends and others. This may sound outlandish, but in the world of Mara Dyer, it’s actually true.

 

The Mara Dyer books are a mix of high school drama, fantasy, paranormal romance, and mystery. Mara is not an average high schooler—she has paranormal abilities, which have caused her heaps of trouble. After realizing the extent of her powers in the first book, Mara has struggled with the knowledge that she has the ability to imagine people’s deaths and cause them to happen. In The Evolution, Mara has to act as though nothing is wrong in front of her family so that she can stay out of the psych unit. Meanwhile she and her boyfriend Noah, who also has powers (albeit different ones), investigate what happened to cause the deaths of her friends, and why they have paranormal powers. As they learn more, the mystery deepens, and they realize their connection goes much further back than high school.
 

Fans of the Pretty Little Liars series will enjoy the mystery and romance this series has to offer, while those looking for something a bit different will enjoy it as well. The second book in the trilogy is just as suspenseful as the first (The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer). New mysteries appear along the way, and it includes an ending that leaves readers eagerly awaiting the final book of the trilogy, The Retribution of Mara Dyer.

Laura

 
 

It is Not in the Stars to Hold Our Destiny, But in Ourselves

Jepp, Who Defied the StarsFor almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.

 

Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood.  As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.

 

Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike. 

Meghan

 
 

Teenage Clone Drama

Teenage Clone Drama

posted by:
December 4, 2012 - 9:01am

BetaRachel Cohn, a seasoned author of books for teens, takes her first steps into the world of dystopian literature with her latest novel Beta. The first in a planned four book series, the novel takes place on Demense, an island paradise off the coast of the mainland. Demense is an escape from the problems that exist on the mainland following the Water Wars. Only the most elite can reach Demense, and once there are served by clones who were created so humans wouldn’t have to do any work on the island. In the book, readers are introduced to Elysia, a teenage clone prototype. Within the first chapter, the governor’s wife, Mrs. Bratton, purchases Elysia as a companion for her children, and to fill the hole left by her oldest daughter. She recently left the island to attend university on the mainland.

As Elysia grows accustomed to life with her new family, she finds that she is unlike other clones—she enjoys food, she has desires, and she remembers her First, the girl from whom she was cloned. Initially, Elysia decides to keep her unique qualities to herself, but as she learns more about her island home and the process of cloning, she realizes there is more at stake than pleasing the family that purchased her. Cohn reimagines our world in Beta, like the worlds created in other dystopian teen novels, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or Scott Westerfeldt’s Uglies. Fans of dystopian novels will surely enjoy the first in Cohn’s series. This novel deals with a number of mature themes, making it a better novel for older teens as well as adults. The book keeps readers guessing right up until the last sentence, and leaves us eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

Laura

 
 

Come on Up for the Rising

Come on Up for the Rising

posted by:
December 4, 2012 - 8:45am

ReachedUnless you have been living under a rock, you know that teens are driving the literary and cinematic marketplace these days. Popular series such as Twilight and The Hunger Games have exploded into pop culture, and many adults are coming along for the ride. In the crowded market of dystopian teen fiction, Ally Condie has carved out a niche with her Matched series. The long-awaited finale is Reached, and fans of the series will be thrilled to discover what becomes of Cassia, Ky and Xander.

 

The three main characters have been separated as they serve The Rising, and the action begins early as the “rebels” take over the territories and distribute the plague cure. Until it is certain that everyone is recovered, healthy and safe, a quarantine is imposed. Ky is flying aircraft that carries the cure as well as supplies for those in need. Xander is a medical officer, directly treating the infected and distributing the cure. Cassia is working as a sorter, and her sabotage of the matching ceremony data is the impetus for the Rising. As the days drag on, frustration and loneliness lead all three to question the effectiveness of the cure and even the rebellion itself.

 

The main messages in Condie’s Matched trilogy are the impact of creativity and individuality on a society. The importance of creativity on the human spirit comes full circle in this final book, and the singing of the first non-Society song is a tear-inducing moment. The theme of individuality that runs through the series is mirrored in the three protagonists, and Reached is told from their alternating points of view in quick chapters. Ky, Xander, and especially Cassia all show growth and maturity in Reached, as each becomes more self-aware and less egocentric. Love is still their underlying motivation, but it is no longer the intense, gut–wrenching angst of the young but a more thoughtful and inclusive love. New readers should begin with Matched by looking for the highly appealing and eye-catching cover art that easily identifies this well-written dystopian series.

Sam

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