March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)


IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)


The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?



Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher

27 08 2012

This is a compilation of essays and papers compiled by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan .

Some chapters are really good (especially the ones dealing with “Where is YAL going” and blurring boundaries) , but the ‘insights’ in the others are very obvious (esp. in the first part). I would definitely recommend this to teachers who don’t know anything about YA and don’t really know where to start if they want to use some of it in the classroom, yes also for ESL teachers, because the world of the teen is you know, the world of the teen… and that is what they will connect to.

However, preaching to the converted here that if you want a kid to enjoy reading and make them into lifelong readers, you need to find reading material that they will connect with, and YA is definitely the way to go then… so from that perspective, I could have used even more practical tips on how to weave everything into the curriculum of teachers who’re already asked to be supermen/women all in the limited amount of time and space they’re getting.

But overall a good collection of papers regarding the topic and I loved the little lists of all the available books per topic.

Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Story (edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones)

1 04 2012

Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones have collected author stories, essays and poems with a common theme: bullying. The result is not just this book, but an online project, which you can find on their website Dear Bully and on Facebook. As a statement against bullying this book is a definite winner: respected YA writers (Alyson Noel, Lauren Kate, A.S. King, R.L. Stine, Lauren Oliver…) telling their own stories of being bullied, bullying others themselves, or just letting it happen, shows that bullying was and is a much bigger problem for growing teens than it may look for the adults in their lives.  As such, this book can be a great help for teens who are being bullied, if only as a token that “no, you are not alone” and “yes, it gets better”.

On the other hand, you have to be honest and say that from a literary point of view, this collection of stories is flawed… despite the fact that that wasn’t the first intention of the editors and writers here. Though there is a common theme, the literary quality is only scattered throughout with only a handful of memorable texts (R.L. Stine, Carolyn Mackler, Lauren Oliver, Cecil Castellucci). At its worst, the stories definitely get repetitive, and maybe even too same-ish, which is not something the topic should allow for, but the book does manage to end on a high note: the letter Carolyn Mackler received from a girl after she had read her book The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (which in itself is one of the greatest girl empowering books!), and Mackler’s reply to this letter.

There is safety and comfort in numbers, is what the overall message here seems to be: we too got through it, and so will you. Here is our statement and support to you. And though this may be true, for the many kids experiencing bullying on a daily basis right now, it’s a bit of a mute argument. But still, there is much to admire here and the fact that so many authors showed their more vulnerable side, either as bully or the one being bullied is the added bonus.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (by Kevin Roose)

7 01 2011

For European cats the concept of “evangelical Christians” is a little bit otherworldly. For American liberal-minded Brown student Kevin Roose it was at least interesting enough to explore that ‘other world’ within his own country to transfer for a whole semester to Liberty University, aka Bible Boot Camp, and to consider it akin to studying a semester abroad. Read the rest of this entry »

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