Category Archives: Children’s and YA Literature

While I Was Gone

Cover of "Rilla of Ingleside (Anne of Gre...

Cover via Amazon

Yes, I disappeared for a little while there, but rest assured, I’ve been reading.

This past holiday weekend on a long bus ride, I polished off two very different books, Getting to Happy and Freedom: A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club), and I liked both, for very different reasons. On a plane ride before that, I read two different slices of American history in Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line and For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz Age Chicago; again, both were fascinating and enjoyable, but for very different reasons. Then today, I bought an old childhood favorite of mine, Rilla of Ingleside (Anne of Green Gables, No. 8), and read half of it already.

The problem is that in this frantic, hectic, end-of-the-school-year time, I just haven’t carved out any blogging time. I’ll be back soonish though, so if you want reviews of any of the books I’ve just mentioned, give me a shout here and I’ll whip one up. I’ve got a poetry post ready for the weekend, and will get back on my regular schedule sometime in the near future.

No, really.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, Fiction

BTT: Age Appropriate

Cover of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"

Cover of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?

Today’s Booking Through Thursday question is one I’ve actually thought about before throughout my reading life.

As a kid, I often read books that were appropriate for where I was with my reading skills, but were not at all appropriate for me emotionally or developmentally. So I ended up reading books like Catcher in the Rye way before I was really ready for them, which spoiled me on some amazing books I could only appreciate after re-reading them. I’m trying to avoid this mistake with my own kids, because with some of my favorites, I want the introduction to go perfectly.

Now, I rarely read young adult or picture books for pleasure unless I am reading them with or for my own children. By “for,” I mean that when my kids are reading something I’m not familiar with, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, I try to read either one book in a series, or a single book, so I know what they are reading. Books have always been such a huge influence on me that I want to know what might be influencing my own kids.

I’m trying to read more YA lit because I think my students might be (or should be) reading it, and I’ve found some good examples of ones I would absolutely want my students, or some day my own children, to read. But just for pleasure? Never occurs to me.

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Lucy of Green Gables

I had a lovely book-loving mother moment Tuesday after the girls’ softball practice. Lucy had gotten a really solid hit on the first pitch and was feeling really satisfied and proud about it, and I said, “Yeah, the feeling you get when you know the bat has gotten a big piece of the ball is such a great feeling, right?”

She said, “Yeah, my bat hit that ball with a big thwack! just like Anne’s slate on Gilbert’s head.”

Then it was my turn to feel satisfied and proud.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, Favorites, The Family That Reads

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Image via Wikipedia

I think that by now, there are hundreds of novels and books about the decade of history between 1940-50, and yet, there continue to be new stories told, new chapters begun, new horrors and tragedies revealed, and we continue to be fascinated and appalled by what we have done to each other, and what we might do in the future.

Between Shades of Gray is another such tale that manages to add new dimensions to this epic decade, packed with historical material already. But while the name of Hitler brings to mind horrifying numbers and images, much less is known about Stalin’s regime and the equally horrific toll it took on the regions of Europe that fell behind the Iron Curtain. Ruta Sepetys, in her first novel, fills in those gaps with the story of a young family of Lithuanians who are separated and forcibly deported and detained by Soviet police, beginning a long and terrible journey that includes prison camps and the frozen landscape of Siberia.

The novel begins with Lina, an artistic teenage girl who is deported with her mother and brother, Jonas, and must discover the length and breadth of her courage and creativity in order to survive her family’s ordeal. The entire novel is written from Lina’s perspective, but her mother is equally well-drawn, if not even more vivid. The novel has its fair share of gut-wrenching scenes, and there’s a character who ends up prostituting herself to a group of armed guards, so the novel is definitely on the bleaker side of war literature (as opposed, I guess, to a darkly funny novel like Catch-22, maybe?) and not as heart-warming or inspiring as a classic like The Diary of Anne Frank. The ending felt tacked on, but at the same time, rushed, in the sense that I was so engrossed in the action and invested in the characters that I wanted to see more, which is a good thing, right?

I think this would be a very teachable book, especially for seventh or eighth grade, lending itself well to a unit with other holocaust or genocide stories and even cross-pollination with history or social studies classes. I can also see this being a great addition to literature circles with similar themes, and I think even could be taught well as a coming-of-age story, perhaps in conjunction with Anne Frank or others, like maybe even a story of child soldiers or civil war (I’m thinking What Is the What , perhaps?). Either way, it’s a valuable story, well-told, that deserves to be heard and will bring new dimensions to any students or young readers.

I received this book as an uncorrected galley from the publisher through an ad on Shelf Awareness, but was not compensated for this review beyond receiving a free galley.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, Courtesy Copy Provided to Blogger, reviews

Review: Boy Meets Boy

Cover of "Boy Meets Boy"

Cover of Boy Meets Boy

For my list in the GLBT challenge, I decided to go for a mix of adult and YA literature, because one of other ambitions with this challenge was to have start developing a list of books I could recommend to my students, as my school’s GSA adviser. The only area of my reading that might be more underdeveloped than GLBT fiction is contemporary YA!

Luckily, one of the books I placed on my list was Boy Meets Boy, one of the most charming teenage love stories I’ve read in many years, if not ever. I’d recommend it not only for gay and lesbian teens, but for adults, teachers, writers, and readers; basically, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

We see the entire novel through the eyes of Paul, a boy so confident in his sexuality that a kindergarten teacher notes it on his report card. If the possibility of any teacher doing so strikes you as highly unusual, then you are ready to enter Paul’s world, in a small town where the homecoming queen is also a drag queen who plays on the football team, Boy Scouts have been renamed “Joy Scouts,” and gay couples kiss in the school hallways. Paul begins the novel with an ex-boyfriend who ignores him, but he quickly finds himself in the middle of a love triangle with Kyle, his ex, and Noah, the new boy in school who carries a camera everywhere. This drama plays out in parallel with Joni, Paul’s straight best friend who soon finds herself in a love triangle of her own that includes a controlling new boyfriend who’s recovering from his crush on Infinite Darlene, the aforementioned homecoming/drag queen.

In some ways, the novel follows classic conventions: much of the plot builds up to the big school dance at the end, there’s lots of romantic confusion that ends happily, teen culture is all-consuming, any sexual activity stops at kissing. Pop culture references abound, from The Advocate to The Breakfast Club. But when you consider that a lot of this romantic confusion is happening amongst boys, openly gay and bisexual adolescent males, you begin to see what a subversive book it actually is, in the best possible meaning of the term.  The scenes where Kyle confesses his sexual ambivalence to Paul are moving, and the scenes where Paul has to win back Noah with a week of romantic wooing are just pitch-perfect and delicious.

Is everything perfect in Paul’s world? Not at all; another plot line is focused on Paul’s friend Tony, who lives in a nearby town with religious parents who are petrified at the possibility of their son being gay. This plot line is handled extremely well, and while Tony and his parent make some progress over the course of the book, it serves as a way to keep the story somewhat grounded in the world the novel’s readers might recognize.

I can’t wait to recommend this novel to students, but even more, I would love to see it on the shelves of every school and public library, waiting for the right kid (or adult) to discover it.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, GLBT Literature Challenge, reviews

Literary Blog Hop: Setting

Literary Blog Hop

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, “Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it…,” so in what location would you most like to hang out?

One of the reasons I read certain books over and over is because the world the author has created is so compelling that I want to spend more time living in it, even if the novelty has worn off, even if I’ve visited it hundreds of times before.

For this prompt, I have two answers: Prince Edward Island, due to the Anne of Green Gables series, and Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter series. When I was younger, I wanted to be one of the children running up the path towards Avonlea school, and now, I’d love to be the teacher in that school (if I could have my own family as well), or live next door to Anne and Gilbert and all their lovely children. If I couldn’t have that, I’d love to be a literature teacher at Hogwarts (again, with my own family), teaching the semiotics of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

This is my literary blog hop post.

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Filed under Children's and YA Literature, Favorites, Literary Blog Hop

Books for Young Feminists

As my girls hurtle towards the rocky shoals of middle school, notably perilous for young females everywhere, I welcome any help, from anywhere, especially in giving my girls some role models, some potential assists in the self-esteem arena.

Leave it to Bitch magazine to help me out, recently posting a wonderful list of 100 young adult books for feminist readers.

Now, there are definitely some old classics there from the Judy Blume school, but as a reader who stopped keeping up with YA once I wasn’t a YA anymore, there are plenty of titles on this list I don’t recognize and am excited to introduce to my girls in the next few years.

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