While I haven’t talked a lot about the many books I have been reading this year, I have been keeping track of them on my Goodreads account, which if you are interested can be viewed by clicking on that little ole link on the right sidebar. But if you don’t really want to click through and look at all the (many, many) books I have read this year (the combo of Literature for Children and pre-observation hours in middle schools means I have read a lot of children’s/young adult books), here are my top 6 (so far!) of the year (in no particular order):
Trouble by Gary Schmidt
This book ended up being much richer than I had originally imagined. Instead of just being a story about a boy dealing with grief and revenge, in ended up being about prejudice, cross-cultural encounters, forgiveness, tragedy and the restorative power of nature. While that sounds very heavy handed, Schmidt touches on all these themes in a very approachable middle school level and to top it off, creates one of the most memorable dog characters I have encountered in a long time. I would highly recommend this for both youth and adults, especially younger boys who may crave more identifiable male characters.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
If you haven’t read anything by Connie Willis before, you really need to get on this. The first book I read by her was To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a much more light-hearted romp than Doomsday Book. However both are written in Willis’ trademark witty style and are set in a future where time travel has been discovered. Unfortunately due to the constraints that make changes to history and the transfer of objects impossible, time travel has been left to “historians” who use the process to gain first hand knowledge of historical era. In Doomsday Book, a rushed process ends up sending a young woman, not back to the aimed for early 1300s, but to the year that the Black Plague arrived in Oxford, England. Her journey into this terrifying year when people with no knowledge of modern medicine encountered one of the deadliest diseases ever to strike Europe is both fast-paced and a fascinating look into the way people deal with apocalyptic events.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
While Graceling, with its strong female character facing incredible challenges, might seem similar to Hunger Games, the unique world created by Cashore and fascinating plot completely draw you in. Set in a kingdom where some people are born with special gifts called “Graces”, Graceling follows the story of Katsa. While some Graces are simple abilities such as cooking, singing, swimming, etc, Katsa has the ability to fight, defend and even kill with ease. People with Graces are immediately sworn in allegiance to their king, so Katsa grows up as a trained assassin, but it is only have a complex plot to overthrow the separate kingdoms and unite them under one ruler that Katsa decides to take control of her own life and overcome the bloody nature of her Grace. I found this to be a totally engrossing book both due to the fast-paced plot, but the wonderful characters that surround Katsa on her journey.
This is a great book for young fantasy readers (Upper Middle School and into High School), but I think adults would also enjoy it.
I have read several of Chabon’s books before this, but this was is by far my favorite. Set in New York City (and several other locations) this is the epic story of Joe Kavalier, Jewish escapee of Holocaust Hungary, Sam Clay, his cousin and business partner, and the brash, sprawling world of early comic book publishing. I love it when stories spread themselves out over the years to tell stories of multiple generations and this book does just that, following the characters through ups and downs and into their futures. Interspersed throughout the story are tales of the character the Escapist (created by Joe and Sam) and Joe’s experiences fighting in World War II, histories of various family members, etc. While I felt engaged by reading this book, Chabon’s language and writing can get dense at times, but in the end I think it is highly worth it.
What follows is a picture book evaluation I wrote for class, so enjoy my attempt at profesionalism!
This book follows two boys kicked out of their house with the admonition “Go do something”. Inspired by an old propeller in the garage, they collect items from all over the house and start building an airplane. After test-flying their creation, they are discovered by their parents, admonished and sent to their room–starting the cycle all over again.
Created by color wash over pen drawings, the illustrations range from small segmented squares to full two page spreads. The level of detail in each painting carries the story, conveying characterization, setting, and action. While younger children may find the illustrations too complicated, older children will enjoy re-reading the story to absorb every detail. The sparse text also contains a strong emphasis on dialogue which helps create strong characters and smooth plot lines. Making good use of parallel structure, the text uses a repeated theme of listing the many items used in the boys’ creation.
Written in 1978, Bored – Nothing To Do! may come across as old fashioned parenting – oblivious parents, punishment by spanking delivered by the father, etc. However, its portrayal of the moments of utter boredom found in any childhood, is timeless. Due to the age of the book, I was unable to find any publisher reviews, however Peter Spier is a winner of the both the Caldecott Medal and Horn Book Award. This book was a favorite of mine and one that I would continue to recommend to children today.
Violent, fast-paced, foreign and smart, this is everything you have ever wanted in an airplane book. Plus the character of Lisbeth Salander, hacker, barely sociable, utterly tough woman, is one of my favorites from the year. Even when you just want to shake her, you know you probably wouldn’t get away with it.