The Map to Everywhere

Next week, an outstanding new book will be released to the masses. That book is The Map to Everywhere, the first book in a new fantasy series by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis. I was lucky enough to read a review copy of this book via NetGalley, and I was thoroughly enchanted. I would have liked to see the artwork that will be included in the final copy, but I guess that’s one way to ensure reviewers like me buy the book! (And I will buy several copies of this one for my school library.) I’m sure the illustrations will only add to what is already a wonderful, captivating story!

Fin, a young thief living in the treacherous land of Khaznot Quay, is a boy who is easily forgotten. Seriously. As soon as someone meets him, they forget he ever existed. Pretty handy if you’re a thief, especially one surrounded by pirates, con artists, and, well, other thieves. Not so much if you need help looking for something…or someone.

Marrill is a girl who’s just been handed a shock, and she’s trying to make sense of her new circumstances. That is going to be much more difficult after she sees a huge ship sailing through what was a parking lot just minutes ago. So what does Marrill, girl adventurer, do? She climbs aboard the ship…and quickly realizes that she can’t find her way back home.

Marrill does have a bit of hope, though. The ship she’s currently on is home to a wizard, Ardent, and his companion, Coll. This unlikely pair is looking for a mysterious map. The Map to Everywhere. This map will lead anyone wherever they need to go. So what’s the problem? Well, the map is in pieces, and it could be quite the quest to find the pieces and put them together. Marrill, Ardent, and Coll will have to navigate the magical waters of the Pirate Stream to even attempt their mission.

And that’s where Fin comes in…

Marrill and company sail into Khaznot Quay. After getting herself into a sticky situation, Marrill encounters Fin (who is also in a sticky wicket of his own). Unlike everyone else he’s ever met, Marrill actually remembers him, and Fin is eager to hold onto that tenuous connection to someone. He stows away on Marrill’s ride, and joins the crew’s search for the Map to Everywhere (an object that he’d also like to get his hands on).

Also, Fin would kind of like to get away from the Oracle, an evil wizard who spreads sorrow wherever he goes. Fin has something that the Oracle wants, and this shadowy figure will stop at nothing to claim his prize. It seems he is also searching for this powerful map, but what he wants to do with it could be devastating for everyone, everywhere.

Now, Marrill, Fin, Ardent, and Coll are on the hunt for the pieces of the Map to Everywhere, each for their own reasons. Can they work together to complete this dangerous puzzle before everything is torn from them? Will they succeed in their quest to bring the Map together, or will the Oracle beat them to it? Will Marrill ever find her way home? Will Fin find what he’s looking for? Nothing is certain, but one this is clear. We’re in for one heck of an adventure!

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I think The Map to Everywhere is an excellent addition to any library that serves upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s action-packed, full of humor, and it teaches some pretty valuable lessons–the importance of friendship, how horrible it is to be forgotten, the destructive power of rumors, etc. I can’t wait to add this book to my own school library and, more importantly, talk about the book with my students!

My favorite part of this entertaining read was probably Ardent, the wizard. This guy was as powerful as you’d want a wizard to be, but he was also kind of hilarious. He reminded me a bit of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. He didn’t take himself too seriously, but you also wouldn’t want to meet him in a fight. Ardent was very wise, but that didn’t always show. It seemed that he wanted those around him to learn lessons for themselves instead of him jumping in to save the day constantly. (And that came in handy when one of his companions had to jump in and save him.) An admirable character and one that I think readers will take an instant liking to!

I look forward to seeing the illustrations in the finished book. If they’re anything like the cover, I’m sure they’ll be just as fantastic as the book’s text.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the second book in The Map to Everywhere series, but I’m guessing we’ll see something in November of next year. Here’s hoping!

To learn more about this fantastical tale, go to http://www.themaptoeverywhere.com/.

 

Published in: on October 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hidden Enemy

Caution! It is absolutely necessary to read all of the I Am Number Four (aka Lorien Legacies) series if you plan to pick up Hidden Enemy, an anthology of novellas 7-9 in The Lost Files. Here’s a handy reading list for those new to the series:

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read through The Fall of Five, turn back now! (Also, I’m not going do much explanation of back story. If you’re not already familiar with the series, you’ll probably be lost.)

If you’ve read my post on The Fall of Five, you probably know I was a tad frustrated with how things ended. If you read the actual book, you likely share my frustration. Well, in Hidden Enemy, we get a little more information on what made Five the person he came to be.

The first story, Five’s Legacy, gives readers a look at Five’s early life. We see him with his ailing Cêpan (guardian/trainer), Rey, as they move from place to place in an effort to stay healthy and evade the Mogadorians. Five is not happy with his life of isolation, and he’s sure the other members of the Loric Garde are together and training without him. His legacies (special powers) haven’t manifested yet, and he’s getting a little tired of waiting. Finally, though, when things seem most hopeless, Five begins seeing evidence that his legacies have arrived. He’s telekinetic, and he can fly. Those powers will serve him well as he tries to make a new start. That new start will, unfortunately, deliver him right into the hands of those that Rey tried so hard to protect him from. Five is insecure and vulnerable, and certain people know just how to take advantage of that. They play on Five’s feelings of powerlessness and promise him a future that looks brighter than anything he could have imagined. The price? He’ll have to turn his back on his own people…

Return to Paradise, the second novella in this book, is told from the perspective of Mark James. You may remember him as the jock who made Four’s life miserable. He was also Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. Well, you may also remember that he had a rather huge change of heart during the battle at the end of I Am Number Four. This story picks up during the aftermath of that battle. Mark can’t really go back to how things were before. He knows too much now. How can he be expected to care about partying when evil aliens are bent on enslaving humans and destroying the planet? He knows more is going on than the public is aware of, and the only person who he can talk to is Sarah, a girl who is still maddeningly hung up on her alien boyfriend, the guy who dragged them into this mess. Mark also does some investigating of his own, and he discovers that the Mogadorian threat goes deeper than he realized. Can he, a mere human, do anything to stop this? And what will happen when Four returns to town and Sarah goes missing? Is there any way Mark can help Sarah and the Lorien cause?

Finally, in Five’s Betrayal, we return to Five’s story. He’s now in the “belly of the beast,” so to speak. He’s becoming more powerful by the day, and he’s earning the notice and respect of the very beings he was always taught to despise. Five is studying war tactics and Mogadorian history, and he knows that the Loric Garde have no chance to best their enemies. His solution? Join the enemy and gain more power than he ever thought possible. The Mogadorians have given Five more attention and freedom than he ever enjoyed as one of the precious Garde, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay in their good graces. Even if that means sacrificing the only friend he has left in the world…

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The highlights of this anthology were, obviously, the first and last novellas. They shed some light on the character of Five and let readers know why he made the decisions he did. I still don’t like Five, though. I think he’s a self-indulgent cry baby. (Maybe I’m being too harsh.) He allowed others to prey on his weakness, and he lost all ability to think for himself. He fell victim to Mogadorian propaganda and didn’t question the line of bull he was being fed. It was all I could do not to scream at him the entire time I was reading his story. (I may be reacting so strongly to this because I read the book during election season. It’s way too easy to see the parallels.)

At any rate, I’m now more than ready to dive into the next full-length novel in this series, The Revenge of Seven. It’s sitting on my coffee table right now, just waiting on me to pick it up. After I finish one more read-in-progress, I’ll journey once more into the fight between the Loriens and the Mogadorians. From what I’ve heard, there will be just one more book after this one, so I’m sure The Revenge of Seven will illicit the same response that The Fall of Five did. I’ll likely want to hurl it across the room at the end. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mobile Library

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of surprises. That’s not the case when I read. I kind of love it when an author takes what I think I know about a story, flips it around, and gives me something unexpected. That’s just what happened in Mobile Library by David Whitehouse. (The title should tell you why I wanted to read this book. Thank you, NetGalley, for the opportunity!) This book won’t be released to the masses until January, but I recommend putting it on your to-read list now.

Mobile Library begins with a glimpse at the ending, and I thought I had things figured out. Let’s face it. Many, many books are rather predictable. I thought this one would be no different. This is one instance when I’m glad I was wrong.

Bobby Nusku is a kid with a rather sad life. His mother left a long time ago. He walks on eggshells around his father and Cindy, his dad’s horrible girlfriend. He has only one friend at school. He’s a target of bullies. Bobby’s big plan to get back at those who would hurt him is to turn his best friend, Sunny, into a cyborg. As one can imagine, that plan doesn’t exactly turn out the way Bobby would have liked. Sunny is taken away, and Bobby is left all alone in the world.

Things change, however, when Bobby encounters Rosa, a girl whose disability makes her vulnerable to bullies, and her mother Val. These two kind people offer Bobby a refuge from his life. Val cleans the town’s mobile library (known to many as a Bookmobile), and she introduces Bobby to the escape offered in the pages of books.

Val provides Bobby the love he’s been starving for, and Bobby quickly becomes part of Val’s family. But not everyone understands their relationship. They think something sordid is going on, and that results in ostracism, vandalism, and Val losing the job she needs to care for herself and her daughter.

Even though he’s been warned away from Val, she’s his only solace after his father beats him one night. He runs to her house, and Val knows she has to do something to get Bobby away from his dad. So what does she do? She takes Rosa, Bobby, her dog Bert, and she steals the mobile library–the one no longer used by the town, the one she still has the keys for–and escapes into the night.

Val realizes that she and her small family are always one step from being found, and she’s always looking over her shoulder, but she and the kids soon find help in an unexpected place. While hiding out in the woods, Bobby runs across Joe, a homeless man with reasons of his own for staying under the radar. Joe joins forces with Val, Bobby, and Rosa, and this ragtag team journeys across England and into Scotland in the hopes of finding safety, peace, and a home of their own. Once again, though, things don’t go exactly according to plan.

The authorities are closing in on Bobby, Val, and company, and they’re running out of places to hide. Is anyone willing to help them? Can they get out of this mess and still remain together? What will become of Bobby, Val, Rosa, and Joe, and will anyone ever understand how these people came together to form their own family within the walls of a mobile library? Is there any hope for a happy ending? Find out for yourself when you read Mobile Library, an novel by David Whitehouse!

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I love all of the misdirection in this book. I had several “What the crap!” moments while reading, and that’s always fun. I admit that I jumped to some conclusions at the beginning of the book (which was also the ending) that mirrored the town’s concerns regarding the relationship between Bobby and Val. That was just one thing that was turned on its ear. There were quite a few surprises in this book, and their eventual revelations made for a page-turner of a book.

The librarian in me enjoyed the literary allusions in Mobile Library…not to mention the bulk of the story actually occurring in a library on wheels. Bobby’s reading list will connect with those who’ve read the same books…and it may just encourage others to pick up the books he’s enjoyed so much.

Even though a few of the characters in this book are children, I think Mobile Library is definitely an adult book. Some teen readers may be fine with it, but this is a book with a lot of subtext, a bit of profanity, and some mature situations. I would recommend this book for public library collections. Not so much for school libraries.

Mobile Library won’t be released in the U.S. until January 20th, 2015. (The U.K. release is set for January 8th.) So, unless you’re a member of NetGalley or have some other source for advance copies, you’ve got about a three-month wait for this book. It’s worth the wait.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mobile Library and author David Whitehouse, check out the author’s websiteGoodreads, and Twitter.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rain Reign

I finished a book today that I can hardly wait to share with my students and teachers at school. That book is Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. It was released last week, and it’s already earned a spot on several must-read lists. I predict that this book will find a place on several award lists as well. It’s absolutely amazing, and this book should be included in every elementary and middle school library collection (at the very least).

In Rain Reign, we meet Rose Howard, a young girl who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism (also known as Asperger’s Syndrome). Her voice shines on every page, and readers get a small glimpse of what life is like for Rose. Rain Reign is a must-read for anyone–especially educators and other caregivers–who have any interaction with high-functioning autistic children. I know I was able to see one of my students in the character of Rose, and this excellent book may have provided me with just a bit more understanding.

Fifth grader Rose Howard loves homonyms, prime numbers, rules, and her dog Rain (whose name has two homonyms). Rain is the one of the few gifts Rose’s father has ever given her, and their bond is a strong one. When nearly everyone else–including Rose’s father–gets irritated by Rose’s obsessions, Rain is always there to provide a comforting and calming presence.

Comfort and calm is something that Rose will sorely need in the days to come. Hurricane Susan is making a beeline for Rose’s small Massachusetts town, and her precious routines will be tossed to the winds. The power goes out, creeks turn into rivers, bridges are washed out, trees fall…and Rose’s father lets Rain out of the house without checking on her return.

When the storm finally passes through, Rose realizes that her dog is missing. Did she forget her way home in the horrible storm? Was she carried downstream by the powerful currents? Where is Rain? Rose doesn’t understand how her father could have let this happened, but she’s determined to find her beloved dog…even if that means letting go of her routines.

Rose searches high and low for Rain. She enlists the help of her uncle, her teachers, and even her classmates. Rose does everything humanly possible to find her dog, but how will she handle it when she finds more than she was looking for? Will her world be thrown into yet another storm, and how will Rose–a girl who needs routine and consistency–deal with the fallout? How will she handle the many changes to come? Read Rain Reign by the brilliant Ann M. Martin to find out.

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As soon as I return to school next week (I’m on fall break right now), I plan to hand this book over to my guidance counselor. (In addition to working with autistic students, she’s also a dog lover.) Several other teachers may also benefit from reading this book. I think Rain Reign could be unbelievably useful in communicating with and understanding autistic students.

In addition to being enlightening for educators and students, parents of high-functioning autistic children may also find this book to be helpful, especially if the parents don’t really know how to communicate with their children. Rose’s uncle provides an example of a good caregiver. Her father is the opposite. As a matter of fact, I wanted to punch Rose’s father in the face on more than one occasion.

Rain Reign is also a great book for students who have fondness for word and number play. This could even come into play in language arts or math lessons. Class studies of this book could include looking for homonyms that weren’t mentioned by Rose or finding prime numbers out in the “real world.” And don’t even get me started on how this book could be used to illustrate character’s voice. Read one chapter, and you’ll see that for yourself.

I don’t know that I’ve adequately conveyed it in this post, but I love everything about Rain Reign. It definitely tugged at the heartstrings (yes, I cried), but it taught valuable lessons. Rose was a brave girl who worked past her own issues when something was important to her. She tried to understand others even when it seemed like no one understood her. She always wanted to do the right thing and follow the rules…when it would have been much easier–and far less painful–to just “go with the flow.” Rose is a character, much like August Pullman in R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, who we’ll be talking about for a long time to come.

For more information on Rain Reign and other books by Ann M. Martin, go to her official website, Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.

*I receive an advance copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.*

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

Read you must all of Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books before proceeding! This is the sixth (and final?) book in the series, and I don’t want to spoil things for you…but I will! (I’m extremely in touch with the Dark Side of the Force!) Before picking up Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus, make sure to read these prequels (which I guarantee are better than the actual Star Wars prequels).

Well, it’s been quite a ride. I read my first Origami Yoda book nearly three years ago, and I finished the sixth book last night. As far as I know, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus is the last book in this highly entertaining (and thought-provoking) series, but I’m still hoping that this is not the last we’ve seen of Origami Yoda and friends. To borrow from Princess Leia…

Help me, Tom Angleberger. You’re my only hope…

Anyway, Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus picks up where Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue ended, and the kids from McQuarrie Middle School are in for yet another adventure…one without Origami Yoda!

Now that the FunTime Menace is no more, the students of McQuarrie Middle now get to enjoy things like elective classes and, of course, their highly anticipated field trip to Washington, DC. But what will they do when Rabbski, their principal-turned-math-teacher declares that origami–especially Origami Yoda–is off-limits? How will these seventh graders survive without the sage advice of Origami Yoda?!

Have no fear! Dwight is here…with a bunch of Fruit Roll-Ups he folds into Fruitigami Yodas. Unfortunately, the vile Harvey also comes prepared with EMPEROR PICKLETINE, the most evil, sour, and smelly being in the galaxy! Harvey and Emperor Pickletine seem bent on ruining this field trip, and the Dark Side may be more powerful than anyone realized. Is Fruitigami Yoda strong enough to fight this new threat?

As the seventh graders of McQuarrie Middle explore Washington, DC (and get into a fair amount of trouble), a battle is brewing between the Dark and Light Sides of the Force.

Who will win? Will Yoda come through for the Origami Rebellion one more time? Well, I can’t say. But I can tell you that this final battle is full of mischief-making, fisticuffs, space food, and even a little bit of smooching! I’ll leave it to you to find out who does what!

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What can I say about this series that hasn’t already been said? It’s opened up so many cool conversations between my students and me. (They are fully aware of my love for all things Star Wars.) I know Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus will only add to those conversations…though I have to admit I may steer them away from making origami figures with pickles. Yuck!

I realize this may be the last Origami Yoda book–at least for a while–but I think I’ll be enjoying this series with my students for many years to come. (I still think we’ll see more from Origami Yoda. After all, we never thought we’d get Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of Star Wars either!)

To learn more about all things Origami Yoda, click here. You may also want to check out the video below. May the Force be with you!

The Blood of Olympus

So, the final book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series, The Blood of Olympus, was released on Tuesday. As you may have guessed, I rushed to the nearest book store immediately after work and picked up several copies–one for me, one for my library clerk, and a few for my school library. (Honestly, if I’d gone to work on Wednesday without this book, a couple of my students probably would have rioted. Luckily, I was able to avoid that.)

I started reading The Blood of Olympus as soon as I got home. I would have liked to finish the book in one sitting, but, alas, my job and the need for sleep got in the way once again. At any rate, I finished the book two days ago, and I’ve been processing what happened ever since.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail in this post because I want to avoid spoilers at all costs. I will say, though, that The Blood of Olympus delivered on all counts. It was action-packed and full of twists and turns, it contained a fair amount of the snark and humor I’ve come to associate with Rick Riordan, and it even tugged at the heartstrings a bit. I think fans of this series will be totally satisfied with how things concluded for Percy Jackson and the other heroes we’ve come to know and love. I know I was.

I’m pretty sure the first of my students to check out The Blood of Olympus probably finished it this weekend. I am really looking forward to geeking out with them about what happened. I’m also hoping that other students will see us getting so excited about this book, and they’ll want to see for themselves what the big deal is.

Since I’m not going to give any plot details away here, I’ll go ahead and start wrapping things up. If you’re reading this and wondering what’s so special about this series…well, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Here’s a handy reading list to get you started!

For more information on The Blood of Olympus, the thrilling conclusion an amazing adventure, from Rick Riordan himself, check out the video below…and read this book. You won’t be disappointed!

Still want more? Click here for all things demigod!

Published in: on October 12, 2014 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Spindlers

This one has been on my to-read list for quite some time, and I finally got around to it this weekend. The Spindlers, an upper elementary/middle grade novel from acclaimed author Lauren Oliver, is a fantastical tale that brings to mind such classics as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and even The Chronicles of Narnia. It is rather scary at times, making it a perfect recommendation for younger readers looking for a spooky, Halloween read, but it also explores themes like hope, forgiveness, and perseverance.

Like Liesl & Po, The Spindlers is another great children’s novel from Lauren Oliver!

Something is very wrong with Liza’s little brother, Patrick. Last night, he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. This morning, though, Patrick is different and wrong, and Liza is certain of what happened. The evil spindlers, spider-like creatures from Below, have stolen Patrick’s soul. It’s the only explanation. So what is Liza to do? Well, she’s going to rescue her brother’s soul, of course!

Liza braves the dark and finds an entrance to Below in her basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza enters this strange world in search of Patrick’s soul, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face. Almost immediately, Liza encounters Mirabella, a talking rat who wears a wig, makeup, and a skirt made out of newspaper.

Mirabella helps Liza navigate this strange new world, with all of its dangers and mysteries. Mirabella introduces Liza to troglods, nids, lumer-lumpen, nocturni, and several other creatures that inhabit Below. Some of those creatures are helpful. Others…not so much. The trick is knowing which is which.

As Liza and Mirabella travel through Below, they are getting closer and closer to the spindlers’ nest…and to the captive souls within. The journey is becoming more perilous, but Liza is determined to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

Will Liza be able to get past her own fear of the the spindlers to do what she must? Who can she rely on when help is needed? Can Liza rescue her brother’s soul–and her own–before the spindlers get the best of her? Journey Below for these answers and more when you read The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.

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I plan to recommend this book to my 3rd-5th graders who can’t get enough of spooky stories. The Spindlers has just enough scary stuff to keep them on the edge of their seats but not so much that it will give them nightmares (I hope).

I think anyone who reads The Spindlers will draw parallels to other works of fantasy, particularly those mentioned at the beginning of this post. The resemblance to Alice in Wonderland is likely the most apparent, and that may just be the hook needed to entice young–and older–readers to pick up this book. Further discussions on the similarities and differences between the two stories could prove to be rather interesting.

For more information on The Spindlers and other fabulous books by Lauren Oliver, check out the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gracefully Grayson

Last night, I finished reading Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read an advance copy of this book (which is due for a November 4th release). I like the book, and I think it addresses a subject that I’ve never seen represented in a middle grade book–gender identity. That subject matter, however, is likely to result in challenges in many libraries in America.

I hate to even acknowledge the possibility of a book being challenged or banned, but I know that many people, particularly conservative parents, are uncomfortable with their children reading/learning about transgender people or those with non-traditional sexual identity. That’s a shame.

In my humble opinion, Gracefully Grayson meets a need in middle grade and young adult literature. Many young people struggle with their gender identity, and books like this one let them know that they’re not alone. This book provides a measure of hope and gives transgender readers someone to relate to. That’s not a small thing when one feels totally alone in the world. Additionally, many readers may read a book like this one and feel just a bit more empathy for those struggling with gender identity. Maybe, just maybe, it could make young people–and older people–examine their own behavior and realize just how difficult these situations can be.

Twelve-year-old Grayson Sender has a big secret. A secret so big that, if it were revealed, could mean facing hatred, bullies, and discrimination. Grayson was born a boy, but “he” was meant to be a girl.

Grayson wants to dress in pretty clothes, curl her hair, and live as a girl. Grayson longs to be her true self, but she knows that not everyone would accept her. Even her own family may not understand and would expect her to continue living a lie. What is Grayson supposed to do?

With the help of a brave, caring teacher and understanding new friends, Grayson may have found a way to be herself. When Grayson auditions for–and gets–the female lead in the school play, she finally steps out of the shadows and into the light. This is her chance to be who she is, but not everyone is accepting of what seems like a sudden transformation.

Grayson’s teacher is threatened because of his decision to cast Grayson in a girl’s role. Her aunt and cousin seem to view Grayson as some sort of freak. Grayson is subjected to ridicule and even injury from bullies. Grayson doesn’t know what to do, but she knows she can’t go back to hiding. She’s finally starting to be herself, and that freedom is worth any price…isn’t it?

Read Gracefully Grayson for an inspiring story of a young person determined to be herself and what it means to finally be accepted.

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If you know of any young person struggling with gender identity, I urge you to recommend this book. Grayson’s story, while fictional, is all too real for many transgender young people today. How great would it be to finally see that someone understands?!

As I mentioned before, my fellow librarians could face challenges to Gracefully Grayson, especially if it’s added to school library collections. My position is…add it anyway. I feel it’s more important that kids–all kids, regardless of gender identity–find relatable books than it is for parents to be comfortable. This book addresses a real issue, something everyone will likely encounter in some way, and it does so in a thoughtful, sensitive fashion. It has the potential to open minds and change lives, and that makes it worth any potential challenges that may arise.

If you’d like to learn more about Gracefully Grayson and connect with author Ami Polonsky, check out her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Published in: on October 3, 2014 at 11:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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Keeper of the Lost Cities

I’ve finally done it. I have finished reading all twenty of this year’s South Carolina Book Award nominees. It took me a little longer than normal this year because, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the list of nominees. It’s going to be a struggle to sell some of these books to my students…but that is not the case with my final nominee.

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, definitely the longest and most intimidating of the SCCBA nominees, is probably my favorite book on the list. It reminded me a bit of Harry Potter, so my enjoyment of the book is really no surprise. This book features beings with special abilities, a fantastical world hidden from human eyes, and an orphan who’s more powerful than she realizes. Sound familiar? Those similarities to Harry Potter will make Keeper of the Lost Cities, the first book in an exciting new series, an easy sell to many of my students. Hopefully, they’ll stick around to find out how the two series are different.

Sophie Foster has always been a bit different. She’s never had many friends, she doesn’t fit with her family, and she’s always been smarter than everyone around her. When she was five, she discovered that she could hear the thoughts of others. She never told anyone about her telepathic ability, but it seems someone out there knows just how special Sophie really is.

When Sophie meets Fitz, her entire world changes. Fitz is the only other Telepath she’s ever encountered, and he reveals that Sophie isn’t exactly human. She’s an Elf, and she definitely does not belong in the human world.

In order to keep her human family safe, Sophie must leave everything behind and move to Lumenaria, a land where she’ll learn what it means to be an Elf and how to harness her special abilities. At her new school, Foxfire, Sophie struggles, but she’s slowly figuring out this strange new world, and she’s finally making a few friends.

Some Elves, however, are less than happy with Sophie’s entrance into the Elf-world. Some have doubts about her place here, there is concern about her history in the human-world, and no one seems to know how to handle just how powerful Sophie appears to be. Her mind is impenetrable for even the most skilled Telepaths, and, while most Elves display just one special ability, Sophie has several. Why is she so different? What is so special about Sophie Foster?

As Sophie tries to piece together the puzzle that is her life, she discovers that her history, abilities, and place in this new world are more uncertain than she realized. Someone in the shadows is manipulating her, leading her on a chase to uncover the truth, but what is the end game? And can she figure out what’s going on before Sophie–and her new friends–are placed in mortal danger?

Read Keeper of the Lost Cities and join Sophie as she navigates this unfamiliar, strange world and attempts to find her place in it.

_______________

I haven’t even come close to capturing everything that transpired in Keeper of the Lost Cities (which is nearly 500 pages long). There are twists and turns galore, and I think this book will keep readers riveted the whole way through. Readers will wonder about Sophie’s past, and they’ll get a few answers, but dozens more will pop up.

This first book has a bit of resolution, but that won’t stop readers from clamoring to read the second installment. (By the way, book two, Exile, is already out. Book three, Everblaze, will be released on November 4th. There’s also a fourth book in the works, and it should come out in November of 2015.) I predict that the entire Keeper of the Lost Cities series will be a hit with many upper elementary and middle grade readers who have a fondness for fantasy.

For more information about Keeper of the Lost Cities and author Shannon Messenger, visit her blog. You can also connect with her via Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

Now, I must do my best to create a book trailer that will get my students super-excited to read this book!

Published in: on September 29, 2014 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Brutal Youth

Brutal Youth. The title of this book could not be more fitting. It just about cured me of any desire to ever work in a high school again. This intense story by Anthony Breznican paints a vivid picture of some of the most horrible teenagers, teachers, and parents to ever step foot in a school. Yeah…it’s that bad.

Brutal Youth is by no means a bad book. It’s actually a stellar piece of work, but it is often very upsetting…which is why it took me nearly two months to read it. I started reading it in July–when I was trying to gear up for another school year–and it started to color my feelings about going back to work, even though I work in an elementary school. For that reason, I had to put it aside until I felt prepared to handle what I was reading. Finally, this past weekend, I was ready, and I quickly reentered the disturbing world of St. Michael the Archangel High School.

Peter Davidek didn’t exactly want to attend St. Mike’s, especially after the incident on the roof during his introductory tour. A kid who’d been bullied relentlessly snapped and unleashed his wrath on the entire school. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the school.

Somehow, Peter ended up at St. Michael the Archangel High School even after the horrible event he witnessed in the spring. Now, he’s a freshman, and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that this school is much worse than he ever could have envisioned.

Most of the teachers simply don’t care. The guidance counselor is a hateful woman who seems to delight in others’ misery. The parish priest would like nothing more than for the school to close (and he’s got his own shameful reasons for that). Even the few adults who aren’t totally wretched seem to be hiding something.

If the teachers are bad at St. Mike’s, the students are worse. Hazing runs rampant, and the adults turn a blind eye for the sake of “tradition.” Freshmen are tortured, humiliated, and abused daily…all for the sake of the enjoyment of the upperclassmen (and some of the faculty), and some kids are willing to do just about anything to keep from becoming targets.

Peter sees all of this going on around him, and he tries to avoid trouble, but it usually seems to find him. It doesn’t really help that his best friend, Noah Stein, does his level best to antagonize everyone around him…making him a target that most of the school would like to take out. Peter has also unknowingly befriended the school’s most notorious pariah…and that puts Peter in a spotlight he never wanted.

This year at St. Mike’s will show Peter Davidek the absolute worst of humanity. He’ll see friends driven mad by the actions of sadistic bullies. He’ll see a girl he once liked become someone he’d do anything to avoid. He’ll see the appeal in getting revenge on those who oppress others. Peter will learn so much about himself and the world around him…and some of those lessons will be horrid and eye-opening.

How will this brutal year change Peter? Will he retreat into his own mind, or will he use what happens to grow stronger? I’ll leave that for you to discover…

_______________

I’m the first to admit that my own high school experiences were sometimes not great. If it hadn’t been for the band, I would have done my level best to graduate early. (I was the nerdy, fat girl who wore braces, glasses, and played the tuba. It’s something of an understatement to say that I was the target of bullies.) My experiences now seem like nothing after reading Brutal Youth.

The people in this book were absolutely awful, and very few of the characters had redeeming value. Even the characters I sort of liked did things that made me shake my head. The bullying scenarios in this book take torture to a whole new level and exhibit cruelty that I hope to never see. And I’m not just talking about kid-on-kid violence here, although that was bad enough. Teachers bullied teachers, the priest bullied everybody, and parents bullied their kids. No one escaped torment.

With a title like Brutal Youth, one might think that this is most definitely a YA book. I would have to disagree. In my opinion, this is an adult book with young adult characters. Quite frankly, some teens won’t be able to handle this book. (Profanity, while true to the story, is abundant, there’s quite a bit of violence, and the book contains pretty frank talk of sexual situations. It’s an upsetting, disturbing book that could contain some triggers for those who have been severely bullied or abused.)

Other teen readers, though, will find kindred spirits in Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and other “poor, unfortunate souls.” Sadly, they’ll identify with those who are bullied the worst, and Brutal Youth may give them a voice for expressing their feelings (though not in the way some people expressed themselves in the book, I hope).

Adults who read this book may find themselves reflecting–either positively or negatively–on their own high school experiences, and this could lead them to examine how “tradition” often fuels oppressive or aggressive behaviors.

Speaking (or writing) as an adult reader, I have to say that, while I was horrified by the actions of the kids in Brutal Youth, I was even more perturbed by what I saw of the adults. Which is worse: bullying someone to the point of violence, or turning a blind eye when it happens in front of you? Most of the adults in this book were guilty of the latter, and that can be viewed more harshly than the actual act of bullying. Kids at least have an excuse. They’re stupid sometimes, and their brains aren’t fully developed. What excuse do the adults have? Spite, jealousy, self-preservation? Is any excuse even valid here? I honestly don’t think so.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for one post. (Bullying is kind of a hot-button issue with me, so we’re lucky I’ve limited myself so much.)

If you’re looking for an intense, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking read, I suggest you give Brutal Youth a try. It’s not exactly an easy read, but it’s worth the time you put into it.

For more information about Brutal Youth and author Anthony Breznican, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.

*I received a free review copy of Brutal Youth through Goodreads First Reads.*

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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