Thursday, April 26, 2018

Brainstorm 141: Characters who rise above physical challenges

I frequently get teachers and students looking for characters in books who have disabilities. Many of them are trying to better understand people they know, a few are looking for characters just like themselves in books, and some are looking for an inspirational read that will build empathy too. So this week we’re looking at some books that feature characters who are overcomers, those who have risen above physical obstacles, and next week we’ll look at books featuring characters overcoming mental challenges.

Picture Books

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche
In this wordless picture book, a little girl goes out and makes a snow rabbit. Her friend or sister is in a wheel chair, so she brings the rabbit inside to her. But the rabbit starts to melt so they decide to try and take the wheel chair out in the snow. To their astonishment, the rabbit comes to life and it starts to grow. Which is a good thing when the wheel chair refuses to move and strange creatures start to close in on the girls.

Target Readers:

  • Art Lovers: I was quickly enamored with the gorgeous illustrations in this. 
  • Wheelchair Users/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Wheelchair Users: Kids who use wheelchairs will find someone like them in this story, and those who want to better understand kids in wheelchairs will realize some of the challenges they face.
  • Touching Story Fans: The story itself is just as touching and enchanting as the illustrations. A beautiful story in topic and presentation. 
  • Wordless Book Fans: As mentioned, there isn’t a single word in this book. The story is told entirely through the illustrations, so kids of any age, reading ability, or native language can enjoy it easily.

Picture Book Biographies and an Autobiography

Dorothea’s Eyes: Dorothea Lange Photographs the Truth by Barb Rosenstock, ill. by Gérard DuBois
A picture book biography of photographer Dorothea Lange, who overcame disabilities suffered because of polio, defied convention by becoming a photographer even though she was a woman, and stepped outside the studio to photograph the lonely and forgotten.

Target Readers:

  • Inspirational True Story Lovers/Fans of Disability Overcomer Stories/Fans of People Who Speak up for the Lonely & Forgotten: A great picture book biography about someone who overcame their own difficulties, and used a "small" skill to help make other lives better. 
  • Art/Photography Fans: Like me, you may recognize several of Dorothea’s photographs, but never have known anything about the woman behind them before. This is also the story of the power of art to move people to action. "Just" taking pictures can be a powerful occupation.

Six Dots: a Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant, ill. by Boris Kulikov
A picture book biography of Louis Braille, the young blind boy who invented an alphabet for the blind.

Target Readers:

  • Readers Looking to Understand the Blind/Braille Studiers/History of Language Studiers: This is a fascinating and informative little picture book biography. Readers can better understand the challenges those without vision face, and learn how Braille developed his language for them to read.

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask about Having a Disability by Shane Burcaw, photographs by Matt Carr
Meet Shane Burcaw who has spinal muscular atrophy (a type of muscular dystrophy) and wants readers to know what he's really like, how he manages everyday tasks, what his hobbies are, and what he can and cannot do. Burcaw's goal in sharing a bit of his life through words and photos is for kids to realize he isn't so different from them.

Target Readers:

  • Readers Working on Understanding Others Better: Shane Burcaw fills a much needed gap of breaking down barriers. We often fear that we don't understand. So meet Shane, gain understanding, and the next time you come across someone in a wheel chair look at them like a normal person. Brucaw's book is short and simple but very eye opening. This received a Schneider Family Book Award this year. A must read.

Middle Grade Fiction

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Aven was born without arms, but she doesn't let that stop her (with the loving but firm encouragement from her adopted parents). She can get dressed by herself, eat meals, do her own hair, and even play the guitar. She's had a great group of friends at her school in Kansas who love her for her and see her as Aven, not the girl without arms. However, her family is moving to Arizona so her dad can be the manager for a Western theme park and Aven isn't thrilled with the idea of starting over at a new school in middle school. In her quest for a non-awkward lunch period, Aven meets fellow misfits Connor and Zion. Connor has Tourette syndrome and one of his tics is that he barks which can get really misunderstood. Zion struggles with his weight. The three of them form a bond, forged by the ability to see each other and not their quirks. It is still hard, though, even with friends. While each of them figures out how to do this thing called life and survive the other inhabitants of the planet, Aven pulls the guys into figuring out the mystery of why the owners of the Stagecoach Pass never show up in person and all photos of them have disappeared. Does the locked up building with seven no trespassing signs have any answers?

Target Readers:

  • Kids Who Are Looking for Themselves in Books/Readers Learning How to Love Others/Inspirational Story Fans/Great Friendship Fans: This was so, so, SO good in giving a voice to the people who get unwanted attention in public. Aven is a spectacular character. It was an inspiring look at how much someone without arms is still capable of doing if they really want to and have a supportive environment. She didn't let her lack of arms get in her way most of the time, but she was still realistically struggling with certain aspects of accepting herself and knowing how to deal with the ways strangers react to her. There were moments that were heartbreaking and moments that were so uplifting and inspirational. But overall Aven is perky and has a great sense of humor (I laughed out loud several times), and her narration helps keep things upbeat. I think my favorite part of this book is the way Aven befriended Connor. He'd pretty much given up on himself and the rest of the world, but Aven swallows down her first annoyance with him and then proceeds to change his life by being a loving friend no matter how his Tourettes displays or what kinds of walls he puts up. Zion kind of gets swept up in the trail of their friendship, and he is also changed by being shown kindness. There were so very many examples of how to be a loving friend in here. The main message of the book is how to be a real friend to someone with a disability, how to better understand how they want to be treated, and a look inside their secret struggles. And it was done so splendidly. 
  • Mystery Fans/Unique Setting Fans: The setting of living in an Old West run down touristy location put a nice unique twist on things, and the little mystery at the Stagecoach Pass provides a nice side project for the friends to bond over. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada was born with a club foot. Her mother has told her that her crippled foot makes her useless and unwanted. She hides Ada away in the house, treats her like dirt, and tells Ada she's protecting the rest of the world from her. Ada's life isn't happy, but she makes do. And her younger brother Jamie is a bright spot in her life. When Mama is out working, the two siblings have moments of fun and joy despite little to eat. Jamie is growing up and attending school now, though, and Ada is starting to feel left behind. Then Jamie comes home with news that they are evacuating all children because of the war Hitler is threatening. Ada decides that she must go away with Jamie, so she works on standing and walking when Mama is not watching. The day of the evacuation the two siblings sneak out before their mother can stop them and soon find themselves in a strange town in the country. No one wants the two grubby evacuees, and eventually they get dumped on a reclusive spinster lady named Susan Smith. Susan claims to know nothing about children and begs off taking them, but the wily woman in charge of the evacuees manages to get them placed with her anyway. Despite Susan's rough exterior, the two neglected children soon learn much about the world that their mother kept from them. With the help of an old pony and a scruffy cat, as well as the soft depths of Susan's outwardly-crusty heart, Ada and Jamie begin to heal, grow and recover from their former lives. And a war that threatens everyone's lives ends up dramatically changing three lives for the better.

Target Readers:

  • Those Hunting for Read Alikes: The whole time I was reading this I was reminded of Goodnight Mister Tom by Magorian. Both books are about abused children who are evacuees from London in WWII ending up with older, crusty adults, and their lives dramatically being turned around while also melting the older person's heart. 
  • Those Born with a Club Foot/Those Looking for Neglected Kids in Lit/Bittersweet Story Fans/WWII Story Fans/Horse Lovers: In addition to learning what a proper home life is supposed to look like, Ada also learns how to function in society despite her disability. The things Ada and Jamie have gone through are heart-breaking. Ms Smith is wonderfully understanding, and so very patient. The story is sure to tug at the most stubborn of heart strings. I think what most impressed me about the writing was how Bradley was able to think about what kinds of things Ada would have been ignorant of being stuck inside a city flat all her life. I haven't heard many people mention that this is also a book likely to resonate with horse lovers. Much of Ada's recovery and growth is tied to how she falls in love with horses and is determined to ride them despite her disability. A sweet historical fiction and don’t miss the sequel which is just as good, if not even better.

Middle Grade Biography

Helen’s Eyes: a Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher by Marfe Ferguson Delano
A biography of Annie Sullivan, information about her life and her own vision problems, and her work with Helen Keller.

Target Readers:

  • Those with Impaired Vision/Readers Who Want to Better Understand the Blind/Inspirational True Story Fans: Annie Sullivan is often just a side character in Helen Keller’s stories, but she was a pretty amazing woman who overcame huge challenges in her life and in her work.
  • Fans of Books Loaded with Primary Sources: Delano and National Geographic did a splendid job of hunting down original photographs and primary sources to enrich this biography in its authenticity and in visual presentation.

Graphic Novels: 1 Middle Grade & 1 Young Adult

El Deafo by Cece Bell
CeCe Bell went deaf at age 4 after a childhood disease. She retells her childhood, dealing with her disability and feeling different, with some fictionalized events and a cast of rabbit characters.

Target Readers:

  • Those Looking for Deaf Kids in Books/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Graphic Novel Fans: Don't miss the author's notes in the back of this graphic novel! She does a fantastic job of clarifying the broad range of experiences for people who are deaf, and also how much of this is a true story and what she tweaked for the tale. It's a great piece of fiction for kids, helping give them a peak into the mind of a person who feels glaringly different and also hopefully helping them realize that those with disabilities have feelings and hopes and worries much like they do. This is hands down the most popular award winning book in our library. The kids love CeCe’s story.

Piper by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, ill. by Jeff Stokely
The village of Hameln has a bad rat problem. The village's rat catcher is having trouble keeping up, and fever is starting to run rampant. When the mysterious young man with the flute waltzes into town with a tangle of dead rats on his staff, the village leaders are eager to agree to his demands in exchange for the riddance of the rats. The only person who really gets to know the young man is Maggie. Few take the time to get to know Maggie because she is deaf. But the young man finds her intriguing, and she basks in his attention. But they have very different ideas of how to deal with past wrongs.
Note: Some violence.

Target Readers:

  • Those Who Like Deep Books or Books to Chew On/Graphic Novel Fans/Deaf Teens/Readers Wanting to Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Fans of Books with Solid Relationship Advice/Pied Piper Fans: There's so much symbolism and thematic stuff in here I feel like I need to re-read this a half a dozen times to fully grasp it all. Which I love. I am enthralled with the depth of the story that Asher & Freeburg have woven from this Pied Piper of Hamelin graphic novel retelling. It's not all that long, but there are some big questions about whether justice and payment for wrongs is more important than forgiveness, and how greed and pride can literally tear apart and ruin a village. And then there's the question of whether or not senses are really needed to be the most perceptive person. And if romantic love is worth compromising your deeply held beliefs. (So proud of Maggie! Way to go girl!) So much stuff to chew on. The art is attractive too.

Young Adult Fiction

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Jessica is a runner. She lives to feel the wind in her face and the thrill of crossing the finish line. So losing a foot in an accident feels like the end of the world. In fact, she sometimes wishes she could trade places with the girl who died in the accident and possibly had it easier. But in the midst of despair and grief, Jessica's family and best friend Kayley will NOT give up on her or let her wallow in grief. Once Jessica gets out of the hospital, Kayley practically drags her out of the house and back to high school, even though Jessica is scared of how people will look at her now. But being different turns out a great way to find out who really cares about the real her, like her track team that gives her an unexpected dose of hope by deciding to try and raise $20,000 for a special running leg so Jessica can someday live that running dream she has every night. And there's also Rosa, a math whiz and super wise friend who happens to have cerebral palsy, and who ashamedly, Jessica had always totally ignored before the accident. Beyond learning some important things about herself, Jessica realizes that people like Rosa and herself want to be known and loved for who they are, not for their conditions, and she decides to use the platform her accident has given her to raise awareness of this in her town.

Target Readers:

  • Amputees/Readers with Cerebral Palsy/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Amputees or People with Cerebral Palsy/Inspirational Book Fans/Fans of Books That Make You Cry Happy Tears/Runners: This is my go-to, must-shove-into-the-hands-of-every-reader book. I actually haven’t brought it up in the Brainstorm for quite a while because I feel like I’m always recommending this book. I can’t help it; it’s just that good. Jessica's roller coaster ride of emotions throughout the book feels so incredibly realistic for a teen facing such a situation. And the way her parents, sister, and various friends react feels very authentic as well. Van Draanen obviously did her homework. I think the power of the story is not just that Jessica overcomes her hardships with the help of an awesome community, but she uses what she learns and has been blessed with to bless others. As wonderful as her story is, when Rosa enters the picture, it goes to a whole new level of wonderful. I can't believe this hasn't been made into a movie because people would eat it up. Oh, and for those of you who cry during Hallmark movies or Hallmark card commercials, be warned you will probably need a jumbo-sized box of tissues to go with this book. 

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
Veda is a Bharatanatyam dancer on the rise in India, but just after a great dance competition win, she loses a leg in a car accident. Veda’s world is shattered. All she wanted to be was a dancer. But the American doctor working on her prosthetic gives her hope that one day she’ll dance again. Her old dance instructor turns her away. Not giving up, Paati (her grandmother), suggests she try with another famous traditional dance instructor. Veda is desperate, so she goes to meet the dance instructor and is accepted, on the condition that she be willing to relearn from the beginning, and possibly learn some new things along the way. Veda chafes at the simplicity, but her new limb makes it clear she has as much to conquer as the little kids. Learning isn’t too bad though with handsome Govinda as her teacher. Slowly, Veda must come to terms with her changed body, what has happened to her, and what her goals are in life.

Target Readers:

  • Fans of Books Set in India/Amputees/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Amputees/Dancers/Novels in Verse Fans/Those Looking for a Quick Read: This was a touching story, an interesting peak into Indian life and culture so rarely depicted for an English-speaking audience, and the free verse poetry fits it perfectly. And since it is written in free verse, you’ll fly through this book in just an hour or two.
  • Read Alike Fans: There are several similarities between this and The Running Dream. If you like one, you should like the other.

Soundless by Richelle Mead
High on a mountain top in ancient Asia there was a village. The village used to be connected to farmland and the lowlands until an landslide blocked the path. With that separation also came another gradual change, all the villagers slowly went deaf. Fei and all other living villagers have never known what it's like to hear, but they have adapted well and are satisfied. But now some of them are starting to go blind. On top of that, their one connection to the lowlands and food has started to demand more ore from the mines and is delivering less food. Most villagers say to accept things, but when Li Wei loses his father in the mines because of his failing sight and Fei's sister has to be demoted from an artist to a servant, both find the motivation to go confront the man who controls their food lines. Li Wei wouldn't have agreed to take Fei down the steep sides of the mountain in such a risky climb, but the truth is he needs her. No one has attempted the climb before because they couldn't hear the rock slides. And inexplicably, Fei has started to regain her hearing. Neither knows what to expect at the bottom of the mountain nor exactly how to save their village, but they must try.

Target Readers:

  • Deaf Readers/Readers Wanting to Better Understand Those with Hearing Loss/Chinese Mythology Fans/Chinese Setting Fans/Light Fantasy Fans/Clean Romance Fans: This may be a relatively short stand alone book, but it is still quite an accomplishment. Mead does an amazing job describing what it would be like for a young woman who has never heard and never known anyone who could hear to suddenly regain that sense. It's not an easy feat, but she pulls it off believably. I also liked that she portrayed the villagers as completely satisfied with no hearing. When Fei first starts to hear she even wishes the hearing would go away. It helps show that those without hearing can still live a full and beautiful life. The ancient China village setting is enthralling and there's a touch of Chinese mythology mixed in. The relationship between Fei and Li Wei is complicated but they talk things out and in the end it is a good example for teens. They both have the other's best interest at heart and demonstrate unconditional love. Hand this one to those who are looking for fantasies set in Asia, who want to better understand those with no hearing, who love romances with characters who have a love/hate relationship to start, or those who like reimagined histories with a touch of fantasy.

Adult Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
As World War II envelopes Europe, the lives of two teenagers, one a blind French girl, and one a young German, are entwined by radio waves, an ailing German soldier, and a legendary diamond on the small island of Saint-Malo. The story goes back and forth in time till eventually you get the whole picture of each person and the fateful events on Saint-Malo that bring them together.
Werner is a young German orphan when the rumblings of war break out. He is known in his community for his small build, shockingly blond hair, and knack with radios. If it's broken, he can puzzle it out and have it working again. Of course, these are the days before the radios are all confiscated. But this time period of tinkering with electronics gets noticed, and takes him away from his destiny in the mines to a special Nazi school where he helps a teacher develop a set of radios to help locate resistance broadcasts throughout Europe. Eventually, his age is tampered with and he is out in the midst of the war with a special team that hunts down rogue broadcasters.
Marie-Laure is blinded by an illness at a young age. Her father, keeper of the keys at the National Museum in Paris, constructs models of her community for her to learn her way around. And his colleagues at the National Museum keep Marie-Laure's love for nature and curiosity alive. When Paris is threatened with invasion, Marie-Laure and her father set out to find refuge with great-uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo, her father entrusted with a very special diamond from the museum. It takes several years for the war to make it's way to Saint-Malo, but it eventually does arrive. In part because of the big radio in the attic that Uncle Etienne uses to help the resistance.
Von Rumpel is the Nazi's gem specialist. When they invade Paris, he makes a visit to the National Museum and sets off on the trail of a very special gem legend says just might save his life.
Note: Click on the title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • WWII Setting Fans/Readers Wanting to Better Understand the Blind/Readers Who Like Character Studies: Most WWII novels just due to the time period are highly suspenseful, but I found this one to be an exception. Not to say that it was boring or slow, it wasn't. But the focus of the story was primarily on the growing up of Werner and Marie-Laure from around age 12-16, and how the war affected them. Much of the time was spent in school or everyday activities, the high action moments were few and far between, and that resulted in a calm but steady progression for the novel. I especially liked the time spent with Marie-Laure and "seeing" things from her unique perspective, and how she helps her uncle conquer some of his PTSD from WWI. Werner's tale is more of a tragedy, but no less interesting. It is good to consider how conflicted genius German youth must have struggled under the Nazi regime. That is also a perspective I have not encountered in literature before. The end of the novel follows several characters all the way to 2014, and how the war continues to leave an impact on lives to the present, in ways of which younger generations may be completely ignorant. It was an eye-opening novel, peering into perspectives of the war not often explored.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Brainstorm 140: Timetravel books

As promised, I have timetravel books this week. This genre IS a kind of historical fiction that kids readily read.

Picture Books

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat
It’s time for a family road trip. A boy, his father and mother are headed to Grandma’s for her birthday. But the ride seems to be taking forever. No seriously, I’m pretty sure they just saw a dinosaur outside the window…no wait, it’s a flying car. Pirates? The road to Grandma’s has never been quite this interesting before.

Target Readers: 

  • Road Trip Riders: This wild and crazy imaginative ride to Grandma’s is a good diversion for a road trip. 
  • Fans of Innovative Books: Santat has fun with the format of the book (you’ve got to turn it upside down and turn pages backwards for a while). 
  • Those Who Like to Debate the Final Conclusion: There’s a photo at Grandma’s party that will have readers debating if the trip was real or imaginary. Lots of fun.

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History)(Or at Least My History Grade) by Mac Barnett, ill. by Dan Santat
After suffering a fate worse than death (missing one question on her history test), our heroine decides there's only one thing to be done. She must travel back in time to fix it so she gets 100%. Of course, time travel is fraught with opportunities to royally mess things up in the present, and she learns that sometimes it's better to just leave well enough alone.

Target Readers:

  • Barnett & Santat Fans: Mac Barnet and Dan Santat are both well known on their own, so it's hard to go wrong with these two picture book superstars together. 
  • Time Travel/Humor Fans/Scifi Fans/Overachievers/Perfectionists: This is one wacky story. I found it quite humorous that instead of trying to go back to change her answer on the test, the girl decides instead to change history to make her answer correct. And things of course go splendidly wrong. Overachievers/perfectionists (or teachers of such) should appreciate the humor of this book. 

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

The Time Museum (The Time Museum, #1) by Matthew Loux
Delia Bean goes to stay with her Uncle for part of the summer and stumbles into his secret job as curator of the Time Museum. Delia along with five other young people from various time periods have been chosen to try out for an internship. To pass, they'll need to do well in a few trials that take place in a variety of times and locations. While the temptation is to pit themselves against each other, Uncle Lyndon and other adults keep telling the kids that working together may be necessary to get the most points. Can Delia and the others overcome their competitive tendencies to pass and survive things like rampaging dinosaurs and killer robots? And just who is the mysterious Grey Earl they keep running into?

Target Readers:

  • Time Travel Fans/Scifi Fans/Mystery Fans/Kids Learning to Cooperate Fans/Graphic Novel Fans: This book has been a super hot commodity since we put it on the shelves a few weeks ago. I keep having kids ask me if the time travel graphic novel is available. I can’t blame them. Overall, it is a fun time travel competition adventure with kids who have to work out some personal differences to learn to work together and some mysterious elements that mean many of us will be eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. If you know a middle grade reader who likes time travel, adventure, science fiction, or mysteries, they will thank you for shoving this into their hands. (Not that shoving it into their hands seems necessary. They’re proving quite capable of grabbing it themselves…I think I need to buy another copy.)

Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, #1) by Mike Maihack
Cleopatra is dealing with being a royal personage in ancient Egypt and in line to be queen. She doesn't mind certain parts, but could do without Algebra. She's about to have her grand 15th birthday bash when she accidentally gets zapped to the future and finds herself acclaimed a prophesied messiah. She joins the space academy, which is mostly the same ol' boring subjects, though she does like her classes on combat training. Still, she has a hard time swallowing the fact that she's supposed to save all of future society from the evil Xerx...and so are some of the administrators, so they give her a kind of crazy midterm that is a bit more dangerous than normal.
Note: Some space violence.

Target Readers:

  • Scifi Fans/Adventure Fans/Egyptologists/Graphic Novel Fans: Cleo is also super popular in our library. She has four books in her series so far with more promised. There’s lots of space adventure, action sequences, and some interesting twists and turns in the plot line. Our middle grade crowd loves her.

A Wrinkle in Time: the graphic novel adapted by Hope Larson from the original book by Madeleine L’Engle
Hope Larson retells the modern classic about Meg, her brother, and some friends battling a deep darkness in graphic novel format.

Target Readers:

  • Scifi Fans/Readers of Wrinkle in Time Who Don’t Get It: There are some aspects of the plot of A Wrinkle in Time that are quite abstract and many readers pick this up only to scratch their heads about what is going on. This version helps make those confusing scifi and philosophical elements much clearer with illustrations to help understanding.

Middle Grade Fiction

Ben Franklin's in My Bathroom by Candace Fleming, ill. by Mark Fearing
Nolan's summer is pretty humdrum. His dad has moved away to London and his parents are getting a divorce. His mom has serious writer's block, and it's up to him to keep his little sister Olive occupied. But when a mysterious package arrives for Nolan, their humdrum summer suddenly gets much more eventful. After they fiddle with it a little, the strange box with H.H. on it makes some flashes and suddenly Ben Franklin is standing in the living room. Yep, that Ben Franklin. Nolan is immediately trying to figure out how to send Ben back to the past. But Olive is thrilled to show Ben Franklin all the wonders the 21st century has to offer, and Mr Franklin's curiosity is quickly getting the better of him. Before he knows it, Nolan is chasing Ben Franklin and Olive all over town trying to prevent a major catastrophe and figure out how to get Mr Franklin back to his proper time.

Target Readers:

  • Reluctant Readers/Reluctant Historical Fiction Readers/Kids Who Think History Is Boring/Humor Fans: Given what we know of Ben Franklin, the hijinks that he and Olive drag Nolan into are all too believable and make for a very entertaining summer's day adventures. (And the illustrations, especially Ben's stories in graphic novel form, help make it easy to visualize.) There's Ben at the pool, Ben at the fire station, Ben at the library for the living history presentation, and of course, Ben's fascination with things like flushing toilets and toasters and light switches. To add to the excitement there's also the nosey neighbor boy bent on proving that Ben is from the past and making trouble for Nolan. Of course, along the way you learn quite a bit about the historic Ben Franklin without even realizing it. Even the bibliography gets woven into the story. There's a promise of further historic figures showing up via the machinations of the mysterious box and clever readers will be able to figure out who will show up in the next book. The time travel-controlling box also seems to have an agenda. It isn't until Ben and Nolan learn an important lesson that Ben gets to return to his own time. If you want kids to get into history without even realizing it and pick up some important life skills too, you need to go hunt down this book and keep your book radar up for the next one in the series.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, ill. by Skottie Young
While Mum is away on a business trip, Dad and the two kids are fending for themselves. Dad almost makes the kids eat their cereal dry when the milk runs out, until he realizes that means no milk for his tea. Horrifying! So Dad goes out for milk and it takes him so long to come back the kids start to wonder if something happened (though more likely he found someone to talk to). When Dad does come back with the milk he admits running into someone he talked to, but there was more. He got abducted by aliens and fell through a time portal, was captured by pirates, and ran into a time traveling dinosaur, almost was killed by vampires, and then single-handedly saved the galaxy and almost blew it up...all thanks to having milk on hand. Did Dad make up the story to entertain the kids? Or was it all true?

Target Readers:

  • Humor Fans/Tall Tale Fans/Easter Egg Fans: A fun and humorous tall-tale (or real time travel adventure??), illustrating the vital importance of having milk on hand. The story is accompanied by fun illustrations throughout that augment it, but the story is a sophisticated enough tale for even middle school kids. See if you can notice some similarities between the character illustrations and various authors and well-known people. Riddell had some fun.

A Tale of Time City by Dianna Wynne Jones
Oh dear, how to summarize. How about, It's complicated. Nope? Ok, here's an attempt:
Vivian Smith, a girl from 1939 Britain finds herself kidnapped by two boys from Time City, a place outside of time, because they are convinced she is the Time Lady and can solve the instabilities that are happening in several eras of time. They soon discover they have made a serious mistake but can't take Vivian back so they try to pass her off as one of their cousins returned after several years out in history. Since she is stuck there, Vivian decides to help Jonathan and Sam try and figure out what really is wrong. Of course nothing is simple when the plot involves the renewal of time and time travel. The three kids eventually do help save the day, but I'll let you read it to figure out just how.

Target Readers:

  • Readers in Search of Unique Books/Time Travel Fans/Fantasy Fans:  Though there are a few elements similar to some other time travel stories I've read, this one definitely has enough unique elements to set it apart and make you feel like you haven't quite read anything like it before. (Unless possibly if you made Dr Who a child, switch his Tardis for an egg and had time falling apart around him...that might get a slightly similar feel, maybe. Although he'd probably just sit down and drown his sorrows in jelly babies without a Tardis.) Anyway, this is an enjoyable, refreshing time-travel read with a touch of humor and adventure. 

Found (Missing, #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
A mysterious plane lands full of only babies who are put up for adoption eventually. Fastforward over a decade, and those adopted babies are now tweens who start receiving messages that they are one of the “missing.” Two of the adopted kids decide to do some investigating and stumble into a plot that involves time travel and the mystery about where all the kids on that plane came from. The series has them visiting a variety of different time periods as they explore the mystery.

Target Readers:

  • Reluctant Readers/Time Travel Fans/Scifi Fans/Historical Fiction Fans: This is a great series to teach kids about historical figures. And best of all? Everyone who picks up the first book gets seriously addicted and tears through all eight books. Even the most reluctant readers can seem to resist this series.

Young Adult Fiction

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody
Ellison had the WORST Monday ever. Her family is all in the grumps at breakfast. She forgot it was picture day and didn't bring an umbrella so she had an epically bad school photo for her Junior year. In the midst of her fight last night with her boyfriend she forgot to watch the latest episode of her favorite show and let down her best friend. She bombs her speech for vice president. A bird flies into the window during Spanish...and dies. Her dream date at the carnival turns into a nightmare when her boyfriend dumps her, and so she wishes for a do-over in bed. She wakes up the next day to discover that her request has been granted. But as the Mondays keep coming and Ellison keeps failing to get it right, she starts learning some important things about herself and the people around her. And maybe the perfect version of this day that will break the cycle isn't anything like she originally thought.
Note: Click on the title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Groundhog Day Fans/Great Life Lessons Delivered in Fun Ways Fans/Clean Romance Fans: Yes, this is like a Junior girl's version of Groundhog Day (the movie is even referenced a few times). The overall message is really good and important for teens. Some of the Monday moments are cringe-worthy (especially as a are Ellie & her boyfriend getting away with kissing at school so much?!?), others are laugh out loud hilarious, and some may have you grabbing for the tissues. Because we get to live the same Monday multiple times, this isn't just about Ellie and her boyfriend. That's one part of the storyline. There's also Ellie's relationship with her best friend Owen, and how that's changed in recent time. Then there's stuff going on between Ellie's parents that needs help, and one of the Mondays Ellie finally realizes that her younger sister is going through a really tough time and figures out how to help her out. But most of all, this is Ellie re-evaluating her everyday activities, attitudes, and figuring out who she really is. She tries a lot of the common pitfalls teens believe they need to catch a guy, playing hard to get, being low maintenance, dressing provocatively. And every single one of them succeeds in some ways but ultimately fails. The final Monday surprised me in some ways but I really liked the overall conclusion and message it conveys.

Waterfall (River of Time, #1) by Lisa T. Bergren
The main character is a 17 yr old girl whose mom is an archeologist. Her mom has drug Gabi and her 15 yr old sister, Lia, to Italy for the summer searching for Etruscan sites. You get the picture that they’ve been doing this all of their lives. Their father was also an archeologist, but he died six months ago and we aren't given many details how. Gabi & Lia aren’t ever allowed onto the sites until the digs are finished...their parents have been too afraid the girls will damage the sites or themselves. One day Gabi’s mother is distracted by an Italian official claiming she hasn’t filed proper documents, so Gabi & Lia take the opportunity to sneak onto the site and see what’s up since they’ve seen their mom really excited about this one. While on the site they manage to trigger some sort of time travelling device and Gabi finds herself in medieval Italy in the middle of a city-state war (she happens to land right on disputed land during a battle) and for some reason Lia isn’t with her. She is rescued by one Lord’s son, Marcello, and taken to his family's castle. Gabi's main mission becomes finding her younger sister, Lia, but with very little success for most of the book. While she is trying to figure out how to find Lia and get back to the 21st century, there are a couple other plot lines going on. Marcello's older brother is in horrible health and fighting for his life. Marcello is betrothed to Lady Rossi, and their marriage will strengthen the city state of Siena. Gabi's arrival threatens this betrothal, even though she does her best not to. Also, there are ongoing battles with the neighboring Paratores, ultimately linked to city state tensions between Siena and Firenze.
Note: Click on the title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Time Travel Fans/High-Octane Adventure Fans/Medieval Italy Fans/Romance Fans: I have a whole group of readers at our school who absolutely adore this River of Time series. Bergren knows how to write great time-travel romantic fiction. Oh, and high action. Life is never dull for Gabi! I like how she makes the main character seem authentically from the present and realistically struggling with adjusting to life and customs in the past. The past also reads with plenty of convincing evidence that Bergren has done her research on that time period. You get transported with the main character, and anachronisms that the character throws in get pointed out. The romance elements are "clean steamy" in that it'll make some readers swoon or squeal with excitement, but it stays PG. Recommended for anyone who likes clean romance or time travel or historical fiction with memorable characters. There are five books in this series, and the die-hard fans this series seems to create will likely also devour the two books in Bergren’s River of Time: California series (completely separate from this series, but similar in overall style).  

Dark Mirror (Dark Mirror, #1) by M.J. Putney
Lady Victoria Mansfield, known as Tory to her friends, is a perfectly respectable young lady from a perfectly respectable family. So it is a huge shock when she wakes one morning to find herself floating above her bed evidently on her own magical power. Tory immediately resolves to work hard to repress this ability. If it got out that she was a mage, it would scandalize her family and her own reputation would suffer irreparable damage. It's all right for the lower classes to have such base talents, but the aristocracy never stoops to such lows. Tory's best laid plans go out the window, or rather, over a cliff when her little nephew is in peril and the best solution is to save him with her magic. Though the relief of her brother and his wife is palpable, the rest of the family makes it clear Tory is no longer welcome and packs her off to Lackland Academy to be "fixed" of her magic. Tory arrives at Lackland to find that some of the other students would rather embrace their magical abilities than learn how to suppress them and have formed a group working to actually develop their magical abilities in the event they are needed in the war against Napoleon brewing on the horizon (somewhat literally since the school is quite close to Dover and France can be seen across the Channel). Of course, training in magic is decidedly frowned upon at a school that is supposed to cure lords and ladies of such things, so Tory and her friends must be ever vigilant and secrecy is tantamount. During one meeting, would-be discoverers try to raid the tunnels the group meets in and Tory is caught in a dead end. She is sure she'll never get to practice magic again, but suddenly a mirror appears in front of her and after touching it she finds herself in Lackland over a hundred years later, during WWII. Tory explores the future a few days with the help of descendants of some of her magical friends and then returns to her own time, but just days later Nick comes through the mirror from the future begging for Tory and her friends to come help with the retreat from Dunkirk. Unsure if they are up to the task, Tory and about four other friends go through the mirror and decide to see what they can do to help. The rest of the series goes on to develop characters
Note: Click on the title to see content notes.

Target Readers:

  • Light Read Fans/Regency Fiction Fans/WWII Fiction Fans/Fantasy Fans: This is a very fun, light read and covers two popular time periods of history. Tory is a great heroine to traipse around with. She feels very real as she wrestles with whether to embrace her magic or not, weighing the costs and getting reconciled to the fact her life has changed forever. The romance between her and another student was a teensy bit cheesy, but forgivably so. I was surprised that some of the secondary characters gained more depth as the story went on and didn't quite fall into stereotypical ruts like I thought they would. I liked how Putney worked the actual facts of the events of Dunkirk in, and often attributed them to the work of Tory and her friends. So overall, if you like Regency or WWII historical fiction, time travel stories, or good ol' adventures and go into this expecting a light read, you should find this enjoyable. 

Adult Fiction

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This is one of my favorite science fiction books because of the witty humor, and the skill in developing a time travel story that makes sense.

Target Readers:

  • Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat Fans: Jerome fans will probably already realize that the title of this book is taken from the subtitle of Jerome’s book. The hilarious classic is referenced quite frequently in this book. Reading this drove me to read Three Men in a Boat and for that I owe Connie Willie a debt of gratitude. It’s hilarious.
  • Those Who Like Adventures in England/Humor Fans/Time Travel Fans/Historical Fiction Fans/Science Fiction Fans: There are two settings in this, both in England, but one is modern and the other is turn of the 20th century. The time travelers are sent on a mission by an imperious woman who could definitely be related to Jane Austen's Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The mission finds the time travelers traipsing around the older England and finding themselves in all sorts of tricky but humorous situations not unlike P.G. Wodehouse's Bertram Wooster and his friends (and there is even a Jeeves-like butler). There's a little bit of mystery, a little bit of science fiction, a little bit of romance, and a lot of witty humor. All in all, a delightful read. This is technically part of a series, but you don’t need to read any of the other books in that series to get this book.


Whographica: an Infographic Guide to Space and Time by Simon Guerrier, Steve O’Brien, and Ben Morris
A collection of infographics about the TV show Dr. Who.

Target Readers:

  • Dr Who Nerds/Stats Lovers/Random Fact Gatherers: I know that a lot of the interest in time travel of late is thanks to the revamped Dr. Who TV show. We have some very avid Dr. Who fans at our school, so we also have a variety of Dr. Who fiction available for them and when they are deciding on which one of those to read in the timetravel section they notice some of the other titles above. In addition to fiction titles, they all like this nonfiction title as well, and it helps them get even nerdier with random Dr. Who facts.

Books on My To-Read List
These are some new-ish time travel books that are on my to-read list. Kids seem to enjoy the Flashback Four and Outlaws of Time so far. Diego hasn't hit our shelves yet.

Flashback Four series by Dan Gutman
Four kids are financed by a billionare to travel through time and photograph important events in history.

Outlaws of Time series by N.D. Wilson
A kid finds out his dreams are real, a mysterious time walker, and a villain who has held a grudge for a long time.

Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar
Diego lives in a world where time has been broken and exists in a crazy mashed up mess. When his father is kidnapped, Diego must try to rescue him.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Brainstorm 139: Historical Fiction Tweens & Teens Will Read

Historical fiction is one of the least popular genres in our Secondary Media Center right now. Genre popularity tends to go through ups and downs over time. Our scifi section was largely ignored six years ago and now is regularly visited. A couple decades ago historical fiction was one of the hottest genres, now it has cooled. But that doesn’t mean students entirely avoid them. There are still several successful titles. Also, time travel books are quite popular (I’ll share some of those next week), so students are reading about historical times. They just tend to need either a good sell from another reader they trust (a lot of these come from favorite teachers or relatives or friends that will talk up books), or a historical story that comes with an adrenaline pumping plot line, light fantasy elements, or fun. So here are some historical fiction reads that Middle School and High School students will actually read. They're arranged in each section with the books read by the greatest number of students per year first.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñez Ryan
Once upon a time, a little boy in Germany becomes lost in the forest where he meets three strange young women and finds a book that tells an odd tale about them, a witch, and a harmonica that must save a life for the women to be freed.
And that harmonica will bring together the stories of Friedrich, a boy in 1930s Germany born with a birthmark on his face, Mike, an orphan in 1930s Pennsylvania, and Ivy, a girl in Orange County, California in 1942.

Target Readers:

  • Light Fantasy Historical Fiction Fans/Award Winner Readers/Touching Story Fans: Despite this book’s massive size it and the next book in this list average the most check outs per year for middle grade historical fiction. Students love this book, and it is a middle grade novel high schoolers aren’t ashamed to check out either. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada was born with a club foot. Her mother has told her that her crippled foot makes her useless and unwanted. She hides Ada away in the house, treats her like dirt, and tells Ada she's protecting the rest of the world from her. Ada's life isn't happy, but she makes do. And her younger brother Jamie is a bright spot in her life. When Mama is out working, the two siblings have moments of fun and joy despite little to eat. Jamie is growing up and attending school now, though, and Ada is starting to feel left behind. Then Jamie comes home with news that they are evacuating all children because of the war Hitler is threatening. Ada decides that she must go away with Jamie, so she works on standing and walking when Mama is not watching. The day of the evacuation the two siblings sneak out before their mother can stop them and soon find themselves in a strange town in the country. No one wants the two grubby evacuees, and eventually they get dumped on a reclusive spinster lady named Susan Smith. Susan claims to know nothing about children and begs off taking them, but the wily woman in charge of the evacuees manages to get them placed with her anyway. Despite Susan's rough exterior, the two neglected children soon blossom under her care. With the help of an old pony and a scruffy cat, as well as the soft depths of Susan's outwardly-crusty heart, Ada and Jamie begin to heal, grow and recover from their former lives. And a war that threatens everyone's lives ends up dramatically changing three lives for the better.

Target Readers:
  • WWII Fans/Award Winner Readers/Those Who Want to Better Understand People with Disabilities/Those Who Like Stories of Redemption/Fans of Great Writing/Horse Lovers: This book and its sequel, The War I Finally Won (which came out last year and I actually like even more than this one) are super popular. They are touching stories of two abused and neglected children finding out what love and family is supposed to be. There’s little bits about life in the countryside of England during WWII as well, and Ada’s riding adventures for the horse lovers. What most impressed me was Bradley’s ability to think through what kinds of things Ada would have been completely ignorant about locked away for much of her life. It’s a touching and heart-felt read, and middle graders can’t get enough of it.

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
(This book is published under the title A Most Improper Magick in the UK.) 
Kat is the youngest of three daughters in a country parsonage in Yorkshire, Victorian England. She also has a brother who has disgraced the family with gambling debts, and a stepmama who is tiresome but not entirely evil. Stepmama is currently plotting to restore the family fortune by marrying off Kat's eldest sister, Elissa, to the ridiculously rich Sir Neville. But Kat and her other sister Angeline are worried because there are rumors that Sir Neville actually murdered his first wife. Stepmama says not to listen to ridiculous rumors, and Elissa seems determined to play the martyr and do her familial duty. While Elissa is resigning herself to her fate, Kat is being her curious 12 year old self and inevitably getting herself into trouble. First, she discovers that Angeline has been reading Mama's magic journals and tries to get a look at dear departed Mama's other artifacts. In the process she discovers that she is Mama's heir and that a Mr. Gregson wants to recruit her into an Order because she is a Guardian. Kat is wary of Mr Gregson and must snoop some other things out (and of course get into loads more trouble) before she can decide or figure out if her newly discovered magical abilities can help save Elissa from a horrible marriage.

Target Readers:
  • Fantasy Fans/Regency Fans/Middle Grade Romantics: This is a reimagined Regency England where magic is a reality. Kat’s family adventures feel like an Austen plot, but there’s the added excitement of the magic abilities and the Order and hidden history of Mama. It’s a very fun intro to Regency fiction for middle graders…and many who have loved this have gone on to try Austen’s works and other Regency fiction in the adult fiction section. It’s also a light, clean romance for middle graders with two more books in the series that are also readily devoured.

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
Mouse Minor is called so because no one knows who he is or bothered to give him any other name. He has an ok life living in the Mews of Buckingham Palace. He sometimes gets into scuffs at school, and he doesn't really know where he is headed occupation-wise, but he has his Aunt Marigold who loves and cares for him and a full belly every night and the pride of living in a place that serves royalty, so he's ok really. But one day he is in a major scuff and misses school. In order to avoid the knuckle rapping of his life, Mouse Minor does not go to school...which sets him on the adventure of his life. First he is picked up by a cat (not to be eaten, thankfully). The cat introduces him to a horse who decides to show him a bit of the world. The horse ride leads to a run-in and induction into the Yeomice of the Guard. (Oh, I forgot to mention that for every human job there's a mouse doing that job too.) So Mouse Minor is on his first guard duty of Buckingham Palace on the eve of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee when he is kidnapped and the asking of one question leads him to places, mice, and answers he never considered in his wildest dreams.

Target Readers:
  • Animal Lovers/Mystery Fans/Victorian England Fans: If you want to get kids to read historical fiction, this includes two enticing elements: an animal protagonist and a mystery. Mouse Minor is a delightfully plucky little hero, and the mouse world of Buckingham Palace Peck builds is so...well, Victorian and British. Two excellent qualities for a reader who loves the Victorian period. But at the same time, the book feels completely approachable for kids who have absolutely no connection with that time or culture. It has a good historical flavor, but also manages to be timeless with the characters and adventure.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Crow has a very loving home on a tiny island near Cuttyhunk island with Osh. Their life is simple, but between the ocean, Osh's care, and Miss Maggie's lessons, there's nothing more Crow needs. But that doesn't stop her from wondering where she came from or who put her in the boat she washed up in. The islanders believe she came from the leper colony that used to be on Penikese island, and therefore give her a wide berth. In her desire to be treated the same and answer deep questions about where she came from, Crow draws herself and Osh and Miss Maggie into grander adventures than any of them had ever desired.

Target Readers:
  • Thriller Fans/Sea Story or Island Life Fans/Orphan Story Fans/Mystery Fans: I was enthralled with Wolk’s writing in this and so sad it didn’t get a shiny sticker during the ALA Awards this year. It’s still a winner in my heart. The book is a mix of island life of a bygone era, a girl looking for roots, and a surprising thriller aspect involving buried treasure and a thief. And though that sounds like an odd mixture, it works so very well. I’ve been shoving it into the hands of every reader I can since we got it. 

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Penelope Lumley is a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, and her first posting as governess is at Ashton Place where her interviewers seem more nervous about the interview than she does and skirt the topic of the children until she has signed an employment contract. While unpacking her reticule, Penelope hears the unmistakable howling of an injured animal and she rushes off to comfort the poor suffering beast. Thanks to the influence of a series of books about the noble Edith-Anne and her adventures with horses Silky and Rainbow, Penelope has a thing for animals. She also has an armory of Edith-Anne experiences to draw on for advice in difficult circumstances (oh, and her poetry book, and the sage sayings from Agatha Swanburne, founder of Swanburne Academy...Agatha had wise sayings for every situation). Penelope forces her way into the barn, ignoring the protestations of the house keeper, only to find not an injured animal, but three very wild looking howling children. These, she discovers, are her charges who have been recently recovered from the woods. Undaunted and using her animal dominance knowledge, Penelope lets them know she is in charge and begins the long process of civilizing the children. The pressure for this gets turned up when Lady Ashton announces she is hosting a Christmas party in one month and Lord Ashton insists that they show off the children then. Penelope is sweating bullets all month long. The Christmas party begins well, with the children mostly saying the right things and not howling. But then the hired thespians start putting on tableaus that all have to do with wolves, Lord Ashton fails to show up at his own party, Penelope thinks she hears the guests murmuring about hunting the children, and a squirrel appears. Penelope is beside herself trying to keep the children in check and sort out all the mysterious goings on, but some mysteries just defy being solved in one volume. Which is why the rest of the books in these series are equally popular, and the finale is being eagerly awaited by several readers.

Target Readers:
  • Lemony Snicket Fans/Animal Fans/Regency Fans/Adventure Fans/Humor Fans: Imagine for a minute the improbable idea of Lemony Snicket and the Brontë sisters collaborating on a book about children raised by wolves, and you might get something just like this. It isn’t technically fantasy, because there is no magic or anything like that involved. But it is definitely solidly improbable history, what with the children who act like wolves. Further mysteries build in the following books about Penelope’s history, the children’s history, and in the meantime they have everyday adventures that will keep readers laughing while eagerly trying to figure things out. This has had steady popularity for over five years with a wide variety of readers.

Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Holm
Sunny has to go stay for a part of the summer with her Gramps in Florida. She isn't too thrilled with Gramps' idea of fun, or that he lives in a 55 & over neighborhood. But when she meets the son of the golf course's groundskeeper, she finally finds a friend. Buzz introduces her to comic books and ways to pass the time in the retirement village. In flashbacks, readers slowly find out what was going on back in Pennsylvania with Sunny's brother Dale and why Sunny was sent to Florida for part of the summer. Eventually, the summer provides insight and healing for a little girl desperately in need of it.

Target Readers:
  • Recent History Fans/Graphic Novel Fans: Set in the early 1970s Sunny’s world is just old enough it gets placed in the historical fiction genre. The graphic novel format and issues that resonate with contemporary fiction fans, mean this and its sequel are hardly ever on the shelf for more than 24 hrs at a time.

Snow White: a graphic novel by Matt Phelan
A graphic novel retelling of Snow White set in 1920s New York.

Target Readers:
  • Fairy Tale Fans/Light Fantasy Fans/Graphic Novel Fans/Reluctant Readers/Those Practicing Using Context Clues/Depression Era Buffs: This is told with minimal text, lots of great black and white illustrations with tiny splashes of color here and there. Phelan expects his readers to be familiar enough with the fairy tale to be able to figure out what is going on, and that's why the minimal text works. If you happened upon someone somehow unfamiliar with the Snow White fairytale, they might struggle to understand the story. The setting in 1920s New York worked surprisingly well. Instead of a king, Snow White's father is a Wall Street giant, the evil queen is a Ziegfeld actress, there's a magical ticker tape instead of a mirror, seven street urchins instead of dwarves, a window display instead of a glass coffin, and a police inspector named Prince instead of an actual prince. I found Phelan's adaptation fresh and delightful, and other readers seem to agree. I especially liked how he ended things with Snow, the street urchins, and Detective Prince.

Compass South by Hope Larson, ill. by Rebecca Mock
Twin siblings Alex and Cleo were left with a man at birth along with a special knife and compass, but when their adoptive father goes missing, the two have to figure out a way to survive. They end up crossing the wrong gang and must find a way out of town. They see an ad in the paper looking for missing redhead twin boys just their age, which promises a tempting reward and decide to head off to San Francisco for it. Cleo cuts her hair to appear a boy, but at the dock they run into another set of redhead twins planning on doing the same thing. The gang appears but this time it seems they are after the knife and compass. The twin pairs get separated in the chase, though accompanied by one of the rival twins, and they wonder if they will ever be reunited or safe from the gang chasing them.

Target Readers:
  • Adventure Fans/Mystery Fans/Graphic Novel Fans: This is set in the 1800s Americas. Much of the book takes place on ships, and there's a good amount of adventure to keep the story moving. I wasn’t sure how students would respond to this one, as the story starts off a little slow, so I held off on getting the sequel but it seems pretty popular. 

Young Adult & Adult Fiction

Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey
Miss Juliana Telford is headed to the Ton for her first Season accompanied by her rather overbearing Aunt, her downtrodden but kind Uncle, and her slightly silly cousin Carrie. The family will also be accompanied by neighboring aristocrats, the Pyebalds. Carrie and Vivian Pyebald are most definitely husband hunting. Juliana is most definitely not. She has one aim in going to London, getting the research she and her father have done on ladybirds published. If she has to put up with silly relatives and even sillier family friends for the time being, so be it. Of course, there's the little matter of actually surviving to make it to the season. She's been exceedingly accident prone of late, something she'd rather die than admit since she's rather independent, but which has had the benefit of throwing her across the path of Mr Spencer Northam. Mr Northam's friend, Mr. Bobbington is rather besotted with Vivian Pyebald, so the two come up with the scheme to pretend to be interested in each other so poor Mr Bobbington will have the chance to win the heart of Vivian. Mr Northam is also working for the Home Office, hunting down a French spy, and he has reasons to believe it is someone in the Pyebald household. Of course, Juliana's Aunt and Mrs Pyebald have their own schemes about proper matches, much to Juliana's chagrin. The Season proves to be most interesting, perhaps a little more exciting than hoped, and fraught with unanticipated entanglements of the heart.

Target Readers:

  • Spy Story Fans/Regency Fiction Fans/Humor Fans/Clean Romance Fans/Those Looking for a Light Read: Anstey has done a superb job in writing a story that could have come from the pen of Austen herself. It feels authentic in the Regency aspects. There's plenty of witty banter to enjoy thanks to the spunkiness of our heroine, Miss Telford. There's also the excitement of the spy hunt. And of course, the situational comedy of misunderstandings between Miss Telford and Mr Northam and Mr Bobbington due to the secrets floating around. This has been quite popular among the teen girls at our school. Anstey's 2nd book, another Regency Romance, just got here and I predict it will be equally popular.

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen
Abigail Foster's future isn't looking too good. The man she thought would propose to her is off to the continent to study architecture and may have taken a token from her sister with him. The investment she advised her father to make did not work out, and now the family is bankrupt, scrambling to figure out how they'll survive. For starters, Abigail decides to sacrifice her dowry so her little sister can have the season she's always dreamed. The first glimmer of hope comes in a strange offer from a distant cousin of her fathers inviting them to come live in Pembrooke Park, an abandoned estate. The estate is generous and comes at a bargain. But it has a dark past - which no one will fully tell to Abigail - and secrets abound in the surrounding village. There are rumors that some very bad things happened in the house, and also that there's a secret room full of treasure. Abigail discovers she's not only taking on the task of reopening a house abandoned for decades, but perhaps she's been brought here to uncover secrets and wounds festering too long. And perhaps, along the way, she can find some hope for her own future as well.

Target Readers:
  • Mystery Fans/Thriller Fans/Regency Fans: This regency romance totters on the edge of being a thriller. Occasionally the mystery elements get a bit intense and I felt like I was reading peaking through my hands that wanted to cover my eyes in case it got scary. It never went over the edge, but it does get tense at times. I figured out some secrets before others, but overall the mystery was well done and kept me reading. The regency ambiance provided for an interesting setting for the tale, and Klassen knows the time period well. This one of hers felt more Brontë-ish than Austen-ish. And I liked the messages on forgiveness. Klassen has several other stand alone Regency fiction books and she’s become quite popular with the teens. I think part of it is that she usually includes a good mystery, while another part could be a positive intro to Jane Austen during sophomore year Brit Lit. There are also several staff members and staff spouses who like Regency and I know some of them have influenced teens they know to try out Klassen’s books. Whatever the reason, Regency Fiction is one of two time periods that teens willingly snatch up at our school, the other is WWII.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce goes outside early one morning only to find a stranger breathing his last words in their cucumbers. Normal 11 year old girls would have screamed and fled the scene, but Flavia is 100% intrigued and when her father is arrested for the crime, is soon trying to untangle the knots surrounding the stranger, a rare stamp, her father's old schoolmaster, and the dead man in the garden.
Note: Click on the title to see full content notes.

Target Readers:
  • Memorable Character Fans/Post WWII Fans/Mystery Fans: All of Flavia de Luce’s mysteries are well read at our school. She’s a very memorable girl with her penchant for poison and solving crime. She and her cases get readers into the time period just following WWII in England.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Leviathan is alternate historical fiction/steampunk set at the beginning of WWI, but instead of the technology we know, the Germans have different mechanical and the Brits have bio-engineered creatures that compose much of their armory and transportation devices. The story is split between a girl pretending to be a boy in the British Air Force, and Prince Aleksander, the son of the assassinated Austrian archduke whose death was used as an excuse to start WWI. Eventually, circumstances bring together these two young people. And their adventures in a reimagined WWI continue in two more books.
Note: Some war violence.

Target Readers:
  • Adventure Fans/Scifi Fans/Steampunk Fans/Reimagined History Fans: Steampunk is another genre recently that has been getting kids into historical fiction without them realizing it. Despite all the different tech, the basics of WWI history are still in here to be picked up without even realizing it. This series is popular with a huge range of students and has been so consistently for a number of years. 

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Josephine Montfort's life gets turned upside down when her father dies. The official report from the police is that he shot himself by accident while cleaning his gun. When Jo visit's her father's partner at the newspaper they own, though, she overhears a reporter, Eddie, telling others that the truth is Mr Montfort killed himself on purpose. Jo confronts the man and he takes her to his friend, a medical student who works in the morgue and studies the latest in forensic science. Oscar surprises both Jo and Eddie though when he tells them it was not suicide or an accident, the evidence said that Mr Montfort was murdered, but since Oscar was just a lowly medical student, no one listened to him at the scene. Jo decides to enlist Eddie's help in tracking down her father's murderer. He'll get a news story that will make him a big time reporter, and she'll get closure. But as Eddie and Jo dig into the case, they find things more serious and befuddling than they could have ever imagined. They also find themselves attracted to each other, an impossible situation in 1890s New York. It's an all but done deal that Jo will marry Bram Aldrich, the most eligible man in New York society. Even to be seen in public talking together could be a scandalous situation. Jo has to channel her secret desire to be Nellie Bly and be conniving and careful to stay involved in the case, one wrong step could ruin her socially...or worse.
Note: Click on the title to see full content notes.

Target Readers:
  • Thriller Fans/Mystery Fans/Forensic Fans/Romance Fans/Stand Alone Fans: I have a group of students who have read this and made it their mission to shove it into the hands of everyone they know. And their numbers increase every time they get a willing reader. The mystery investigation gets quite tense at times, but is also very well done. The look at 1890s society in the slums and the upper circles and the ways Donnelly shows how they are vastly different but face similar issues was fascinating.

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
Vidya is the younger of two sibblings in a more modern Brahmin Indian family during the beginnings of WWII. Her father is a doctor, active in the nonviolent Indian freedom movement, who believes that the caste system isn't necessarily right and that his daughter should have the freedom to go to college before marrying (uncommon at the time). Vidya and her father are returning to their home one day when they have to stop because of a protest. Vidya gets swept up in the hype and leaves the car against her father's wishes. He tries to stop her, ends up helping a woman being beaten by the British police, and is himself beaten until he suffers severe brain damage. At this point Vidya's life dramatically changes. She, her mother, brother, and her father must then go to live with the rest of her father's family in a more traditional Brahmin household. Vidya's life is made miserable by her aunt and uncle, and she realizes she will probably never get to go to college now. The one bright spot in her life is the library, which she at first visits on the sly --since it lies up on the mens' floor where women are forbidden-- and then, thanks to the all-powerful word of thatha (her Grandfather) she is granted access to daily. Climbing the stairs to the library ends up changing her life for the better in several ways.

Target Readers:
  • India Fans/WWII Fans/Memorable Character Fans: This one is popular in our library for the Indian setting (we have several Indian students, and readers constantly looking for books set anywhere in Asia) and the unique perspective on WWII. Vidya is also a character who will stick with readers for a while.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
As World War II envelopes Europe, the lives of two teenagers, one a blind French girl, and one a young German, are entwined by radio waves, an ailing German soldier, and a legendary diamond on the small island of Saint-Malo. The story goes back and forth in time till eventually you get the whole picture of each person and the fateful events on Saint-Malo that bring them together.
Werner is a young German orphan when the rumblings of war break out. He is known in his community for his small build, shockingly blond hair, and knack with radios. If it's broken, he can puzzle it out and have it working again. Of course, these are the days before the radios are all confiscated. But this time period of tinkering with electronics gets noticed, and takes him away from his destiny in the mines to a special Nazi school where he helps a teacher develop a set of radios to help locate resistance broadcasts throughout Europe. Eventually, his age is tampered with and he is out in the midst of the war with a special team that hunts down rogue broadcasters.
Marie-Laure is blinded by an illness at a young age. Her father, keeper of the keys at the National Museum in Paris, constructs models of her community for her to learn her way around. And his colleagues at the National Museum keep Marie-Laure's love for nature and curiosity alive. When Paris is threatened with invasion, Marie-Laure and her father set out to find refuge with great-uncle Etienne in Saint-Malo, her father entrusted with a very special diamond from the museum. It takes several years for the war to make its way to Saint-Malo, but it eventually does arrive. In part because of the big radio in the attic that Uncle Etienne uses to help the resistance.
Von Rumpel is the Nazi's gem specialist. When they invade Paris, he makes a visit to the National Museum and sets off on the trail of a very special gem legend says just might save his life.
Note: Click on the title to see full content notes.

Target Readers:
  • WWII Fans/Thriller Fans/Those Who Want to Better Understand People with Disabilities/Excellent Writing Fans: This is an excellently written book, especially the way Doerr writes Marie-Laure's perspective. It isn't the high action thing most WWII books are, but it is powerful and moving.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
When Alice Ascher is murdered, Hercule Poirot finds himself following alphabetical clues to solve the crime.
Note: Some violence.

Target Readers:
  • Mystery Fans: Mystery is an enticing genre to teens at our school. And many of them are Agatha Christie fans after getting exposed via movies or freshman English. This is just one of the most popular of her titles. There’s something very approachable to modern teens about her writing.

Death Struck Year by Makiia Lucier
When the Spanish flu hits Cleo Berry’s city in Oregon in the fall of 1918, her brother and sister-in-law are down in San Francisco and their house keeper is visiting her family and Washington. The mayor has ordered the closing of all schools, and Cleo decides to return to her empty home rather than wait for her brother at boarding school. That night she sees an ad in the newspaper from the Red Cross asking for help, particularly those with cars and/or nursing backgrounds. Cleo doesn’t have a nursing degree. In fact, she can’t figure out what she’s going to do after graduation from high school in the spring, but she does have a car and her own past makes her eager to make sure there aren’t people out there suffering alone. So the next day she finds herself signed up with the Red Cross, armed with an armband, information brochures, gauze masks and a neighborhood to check. She goes door to door making sure everyone at home is fine, or if someone is sick that there are healthy people able to take care of them. As the days go by, the intensity of the situation helps her form fast friendships with others working to save whoever they can. She becomes good friends with another 17 year old volunteer, Kate, the motherly woman in charge of the nurses, Hannah, and a young medical student who was injured in the war, Edmund (and who has an annoying/endearing habit of trying to make sure Cleo is safe). Many volunteers barely make it through one day canvasing neighborhoods and working in the make-shift hospital. Cleo is definitely tempted to quit, but even when tragedy strikes close to home, she finds herself driven to help. And Hannah thinks Cleo may have found some future direction in the midst of this horrible pandemic.
Note: As accurate per the time period, several deaths.

Target Readers:
  • Catastrophe Fans/Dystopia Fans/Thriller Fans/Light Romance Fans: Honestly, I think the cover takes most of the credit for the popularity of this title, but the dystopia-like historical setting helps, and a plucky heroine who is willing to help others regardless of the cost to herself is inspirational. 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Lina, her mother, and her younger brother Jonas are marched out of their home in Lithuania, and forced on a harrowing journey which eventually ends in Siberia. They spend countless days in horrible conditions on trains and in work camps. They are fighting to survive just because the Russians decided their family was anti-Soviet.
Note: Click on the title to see full content notes.

Target Readers:
  • Thriller Fans/Salt to the Sea Fans: So I really should have shared Salt to the Sea here, but I’ve shared that a lot recently. It is very popular with many of our students. But this one also is thanks to Salt to the Sea. See, unbeknownst to many, this book is related. A very observant reader pointed out to me that in Salt to the Sea, Joanna talks about her cousin Lina in Lithunia and how she’s worried about what's happened to her. This is Lina’s story. So now I usually get students reading both titles one after the other. They've spread the word that the books are linked. Lina is an interesting character, because she doesn't seem the "normal" literary prisoner. Prisoners in concentration camp-type settings or dystopian books are usually inordinately brave (almost superhuman and super lucky) or inordinately submissive and hopeless. Lina is a curious limbo between anger and desire for action and restraint and fear because of the consequences of actions. In other words, she feels real. She relates how things are and mixes in memories of the past certain things bring up. Sepetys does a good job of portraying the horrors Lina's family faces, without glorying in the horrible or making the book awfully depressing. It is a delicate balance done wonderfully.