Friday, December 14, 2012

Aaaand... DONE.

For now, that is. I've finished my last two classes in my grad program. It was a grueling semester, but it's done and I'm finishing strong, something I was terrified of not doing when I undertook two classes while taking care of an infant. I'm relieved, and so grateful to my family and friends that saw me through this. And now, the winter break, as I prepare for my final project: the ePortfolio. I've already started getting myself organized for this, as it's a gauntlet of writing over 12 weeks. It can be done.

In other news, I've decided that for now, I will not be splitting the blog content. I will continue to post book reviews at my Mom Read It blog on WordPress, as that's garnered a following thanks to Twitter and LinkedIn notifications. I may split the blog content in the future. Again, if you feel strongly either way, let me know. I also blog comic book reviews over at my friend Chuck's blog, Whatcha Reading? I just posted one for Lance "Bishop" Henriksen's new undertaking, To Hell You Ride, which looks like it's going to be some really good stuff. Head over and check the reviews out if you get a chance!

I inadvertently discovered today that an article I had published in Library Student Journal last year is on the syllabi for two different library school classes. Talk about a surreal moment, right?

I've also picked up my knitting needles again, which is such a huge relief. I missed the therapeutic feel of the yarn running through my fingers and the comforting rhythm of the patterns. I love the little "click clack" of the bamboo needles. It's an altogether relaxing experience that I denied myself for far too long. I'm working on the Commuter fingerless gloves from Knitty's First Fall issue this year. I'll have pictures up soon. Promise.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Quick Update...

I've spent the past few days loading up book reviews I wrote for my Materials for Teens class, so all my reviews are in one place. Please look through and enjoy. Or disagree - we all know books are highly subjective, as well they should be.

I'm also guest blogging now, giving comic book reviews on my buddy Chuck's site, What'cha Reading?  Please go check his site out - he provides some really strong commentary on an amazing range of titles. His taste runs a lot more indie than mine, and he's introduced me to quite a few new books in the eons since we've known one another. I've only got one review up now - the Marvel Now kinda-relaunch of my favorite Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool - but as this hellish semester comes to a close, I plan to remedy this and get to work, bringing superhero goodness to the site.

I have also been thinking (always a scary thought). While I fully intend to continue blogging about more than just book reviews, but I don't know if that will alienate anyone who comes here specifically for reviews. So do me a favor, and weigh in - would you prefer to read the content separately? Should I keep it all in one spot for ease of browsing? Comment and let me know.

More to come soon - but first, a  paper due tomorrow demands my attention.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Magazine Review: Game Informer (Sunrise Publications)


Recommended for ages 13+
Subscription Rate: $19.98/1 year/ Available in print or digital format.
Frequency of PublicationMonthly
Game Informer features articles on video games. It covers console gaming, handheld gaming, and online and PC gaming. The magazine publishes articles about game consoles, strategies, game reviews, industry news, interviews with industry personalities, new and upcoming releases, and reader contributions. With over 7.5 million subscribers, it is the highest circulated video game magazine and has been listed as the fourth largest overall magazine. GameStop Corp., the parent company of the video game retailer, provides subscriptions through the stores’ PowerUp Rewards card, GameStop’s customer apprecation program. In addition to the discounts afforded members by using the card is access to the exclusive content and pre-order opportunities on the Game Informer website.
Game Informer is the go-to magazine for anyone interested in video games. The magazine’s covers are always dynamic, usually featuring a spotlighted, hotly anticipated video game like recent favorites Assassin’s Creed and Halo 4 (pictured). The articles are written by journalists who are also dedicated video game fans, giving a depth to game coverage in the magazine. Content covers games rated “E” for everyone, like Pokemon and the Lego series of games to the rated “M” for Mature games like Call of Duty and The Walking Dead. Readers can expect well-written articles and interviews with smart insights.

Book Review: Staying Fat for Sarah Burns, by Chris Crutcher (2003 edition, HarperCollins)

Recommended for ages 13+


Eric and Sarah Byrnes have been friends since they were little. Originally connected by their outcast status – Sarah is disfigured by burn scars that she allegedly sustained as a toddler when she pulled a pot of boiling spaghetti on herself, Eric was overweight – they seem to be growing apart as Eric develops more of a social life. He tried to stay overweight for her so that she wouldn’t think she’d leave him, but he joined the swim team and has slimmed down despite his best efforts. One day, Sarah Byrnes becomes catatonic in class and is sent to a hospital where she refuses to speak. Eric visits her every day and tries to talk to her. He knows she is hiding something, but Sarah Byrnes – one of the toughest, angriest girls he’s ever met – is not ready to let him get that close. Sarah Byrnes’ dad is looming closer and closer, though, and Eric has a very bad feeling about him. Can Eric get Sarah Byrnes the help she needs before her father gets to them both?
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes tackles a lot of difficult ground: child abuse, neglect and abandonment; obesity; Christian fundamentalism gone wild, and abortion are but some of the ground he covers. Chris Crutcher is not afraid to take his characters to places that may be uncomfortable to talk about, but necessary to be aware of. His characters are realistic and their dialogue, while heavy-handed at points, keeps the pages turning. He tackles inner angst and rage well and his voice will speak to teens. Each of the main characters spend the book going through a journey of self-discovery and learning to find his or her own voice – something that every teen should know how to do.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has received numerous awards and accolades, among them, the California Young Reader Medal – Young Adult (1997); Joan Fassler Memorial Book Award for Best Medical-Related Children’s Book (1995); American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults (1994); South Dakota LIbrary Association Young Adult Reading Program (YARP) Best Books (1994); School Library Journal Best Book (1993); Number three on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2009; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; Kirkus Reviews Choice; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award.
Chris Crutcher is a YA author and family therapist. He is among the most challenged YA authors, with 35 challenges between 1995 and 2011. His author website includes a list of book challenges, information about his books, teaching and reading guides for educators, contact and school visit information, an FAQ, and extras including printable posters.

Book Review: The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (2000 edition, Random House)

Recommended  for ages 14+


Still reeling from his mother’s death, Jeremy Renault starts high school at the private Trinity School as a freshmen. Trinity’s secret society, The Vigils, targets him for an “assignment” – to refuse to sell chocolates for the first week of the school chocolate sale. After the week is up, Jeremy continues to refuse to sell the chocolates, taking a stand for himself. The Vigils, quietly sanctioned by the school’s principal, Brother Leon, begins a campaign of bullying and harassment in order to save face and force Jeremy to comply. In 1985, Cormier published a sequel, Beyond the Chocolate War.
The Chocolate War is an often brutal book in its depictions of psychological and physical abuse. Jeremy and his friends endure their assignments from the vigils and all the guilt that comes with the consequences of their actions. Archie, the Vigil who creates the “assignments”, is unsettling in his cold ability to dole out punishment to students and antagonistic to his teachers. We never get any reasons why he is the way he is – he simply is. The most fleshed out character here is Jeremy, because he is the focal point of the book. His grief over his mother, his frustration with his distant father, and the derision he endures day after day in school can be difficult to read, but Cormier creates a respect for Jeremy by his sheer force of will. Although originally published in 1974, the book’s themes are just as relevant today.
The Chocolate War was number three on the American Library Association’s (ALA) Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2009; it  has also been designated as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; Kirkus Reviews Choice; New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year; and received a Margaret A. Edwards Award.
Robert Cormier was a YA author and journalist who preferred to write about the harsher realities in life, as seen in his more famous books, The Chocolate War, I Am the Cheese,and The Cheese Stands Alone. He passed away in 2000; the Internet Public Library has a link to a biography and interview with him from 1996. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Weetzie Bat, by Francesca Lia Block (1989, HarperCollins)

Recommended for ages 14+


Weetzie Bat has no intention of fitting in. She is a high school student in Los Angeles, and embraces her punk rock style and attitude. She and Dirk, the best-looking guy in school (who also happens to be gay), are best friends who want to find love but always end up with the wrong guys. Weetzie is desperate to find a lasting love, especially after her parents’ divorce and her dad’s move across the country to New York. When she meets up with a genie who offers her three wishes, she wishes for a Duck (boyfriend) for Dirk, a Secret Agent Lover Man for herself, and a beautiful house for them all to live happily ever after in. Her wishes are granted, and her thoughts turn to having a baby. Secret Agent Lover Man does not want to be a father and leaves, so Weetzie turns to Duck and Dirk, who agree to father a baby with her; she gives birth to a little girl they name Cherokee, whom she dresses in feathers. When Secret Agent Lover Man returns, claiming that he loves Weetzie too much to stay away, he brings some baggage with him, and that could ruin Weetzie’s wish for a happily ever after. 
Set in a surreal, dream-like Los Angeles, Weetzie Bat is a hard book to pin down: Is it all a dream? Is it a metaphor? On the surface, Weetzie Bat is the story of two friends who don’t quite fit in who decide to build their own lives together in a the most surreal of landscapes – Los Angeles. Under the surface, there is a bit more happening; Weetzie’s desire for family and a happily ever after stems from her parents’ divorce; Secret Agent Lover Man’s mysterious illness could be a sexually transmitted disease (some reviews have alluded to AIDS); there are issues with teen parenthood and sexuality, and LGBT teen issues all packed into 109 pages. It is not an easy book to read, but it will generate a lot of discussion.
 
Weetzie Bat has received numerous awards and accolades, including designation as an ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults; ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Parents’ Choice Gold Award; Phoenix Award, Children’s Literature Association (2009).

Weetzie Bat was author Francesca Lia Block’s first novel, written while she was in college. She is primarily a YA author who concentrates on the Los Angeles area and a recipient of the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Library Association (ALA). Her author website offers links to information about her books, reviews, clips from book readings, workshops, and contact information.

Video Game Review: Mass Effect 3 (2012, Electronic Arts)

Recommended for ages 15+


Platforms: PC (Microsoft Windows); PlayStation 3; X-Box 360
Rating: M for Mature – violence, mild sexuality.
Mass Effect 3 is the third in the Mass Effect video game trilogy. The series tells the story of Systems Alliance Commander Shepard as he fights against a race of machines called The Reapers, bent on global domination and destruction. In Mass Effect 3, the story begins on Earth with Commander Shepard relieved of duty, but later brought back with the mission of uniting the galaxy’s forces to stop the Reapers. Shepard liberates former squadmates and goes on goodwill missions throughout the galaxy in order to get help and resources for the war.
Although a rated “M” for mature game, theMass Effect series is very popular with teens as a role-playing game that offers the ability for multiplayer gaming through gaming networks like PlayStation and X-Box. There are missions to complete and a “choose your own adventure” feel in that every decision brings its own consequences, and these can change with each play. Downloadable content provides additional quests, maps, characters, and weapons. Gameplay is rapid, with interludes of content to flesh out the Mass Effect storyline. Controversy over the game’s ending led EA Games and game developer BIoware to release additional downloadable content during Summer 2012 that will expand the ending with an epilogue.
The Mass Effect series has won over 80 awards, including the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences’s RPG (role-playing game) of the Year at the 11th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards; New York Times; Game of the Year: 2007 Game Awards; IGN’s Best Story and Best RPG: Best of 2007; GamePro’sEditors’ Choice 2007 RPG of the Year and Developer of the Year; and Best of E3 2006 from LifeTeen.com.
The Mass Effect Wiki is a comprehensive online encyclopedia for the game’s universe and is a very helpful compendium of information anyone interested in learning about the game or related media, including comic books and novels. It is available in six languages: German, Spanish, French, Russian, Polish and Hungarian.  The Complete Mass Effect Encyclopedia is another online resource that welcomes Mass Effect gamers; their content tends to remain game-related, with articles about alien races, ships, characters and skills.

Book Review: Beautiful Lies, by Jessica Warman (2012, Walker Books for Young Readers)

Recommended for ages 14+


When a twin sister mysteriously disappears, her sister is left to find her before it’s too late. All she has to go on is the mysterious injuries that show up on her body to let her know that her sister is still alive.
Alice and Rachel are a very rare type of identical twins. Mirror images of one another, they are so identical that even their family and friends have trouble telling them apart – which comes in handy for the girls, as they like to switch places. Rachel and Alice are connected in a way that no one else knows about – when one twin experiences pain, the other will manifest the same injury. Orphaned at a young age and living with their aunt and uncle, one twin grew up wild and one more conservative. When one of the twins disappears during an Oktoberfest celebration and the other starts experiencing physical injuries, she begs her family to call the police and search for her sister. But with a history of mental illness in the family and a penchant for running away, Rachel and Alice’s aunt and uncle are slow to react. The big question here is: which teen is actually the missing teen, and can her sister find her before it’s too late?


Jessica Warman writes mysteries with a paranormal bent, and Beautiful Lies is no exception. Taking the twin phenomenon one step further, Rachel and Alice are mirror-image twins who like to switch identities, already establishing unreliable narrators. Throw in a history of mental illness that affected the girls’ grandmother and mother, and once the narrator reveals that she may not be the twin the reader thinks she is, we have a real mystery on our hands – who is missing, Rachel or Alice? The narrative stumbles with the constant identity switching within the text may confuse readers more than keep them on their toes. The paranormal aspect fades in and out of the narrative and may appear inconsistent, which may leave readers feel like they have been left hanging. Overall, the pacing is good as is the writing, but it is difficult to become attached to any of the characters because the reader doesn’t really know who’s who.
Jessica Warman is a YA author whose books have been designated among the Best Books for Young Adults by the Young Adults Library Services Association (YALSA) and have achieved the Booklist Top 10. Her author website offers information about her books, contact information, and her blog.

Book Review: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland, by Sally M. Walker (2009, Lerner Books)

Recommended for ages 12+


Beginning in 2005, a group of scientists ad forensic anthropologists began a dig in the Chesapeake Bay region.Written in Bonecovers the dig and the findings in both the Jamestown, Virginia and Colonial Maryland settlements. Using forensic techniques, anthropologists were able to learn a great deal about many of the skeletons unearthed at the digs, including approximate ages at death, possible causes of death, and whether or not the inhabitants had been in America long. Some of the skeletons were even identified.
The book is illustrated with color photos of skeletons, dig sites, and artifacts, as well as maps and documents dating from colonial-era America. An illustrated timeline walks readers through Colonial Jamestown and Maryland events relevant to the digs, all the way through to 2009 when the Smithsonian’s “Written in Bone” exhibit opened to the public. Ms. Walker provides case studies on several skeletons excavated at the digs. Beginning with the discovery of the burial sites, each of the case studies goes through the process of discovery, unearthing, and using the bones and any surrounding material – dirt, arrowheads, vegetation – to learn more about the person, including their identity.
The author presents a great deal of fascinating scientific information and draws readers into a CSI-like investigation of the skeletons. One skeleton, discovered in a trash pit of a colonial home, is found to have likekly been that of a teenage indentured servant who may have been beaten to death. These stories, along with the compelling photographs, will keep the attention of reluctant readers as well as avid history fans.
Written in Bone was a Finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Excellence in Nonfiction Award; a Finalist for the American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book (2010); a Finalist for the Orbis Pictus Recommended Book (2010); it was designated one of the ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2010), and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People (2010).
Author Sally M. Walker studied archaeology in college, and primarily writes nonfiction books for readers of all ages, from early readers to older (middle grade-high school) readers. Her author websiteprovides information on school visits, about all of her books, contact information and a biography. The Written in Bone exhibit is a 4-year Smithsonian exhibit that will close in January 2013 with a robust website featuring videos, a webcomic, and case files on colonists profiled in the book. The publisher’s website offers more information, including links to the exhibit, downloadable research tips from the author, a Written in Bonetimeline of events, and a bookmark.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book Review: The Death Catchers, by Jennifer Anne Kogler (2011, Walker Books for Young Readers)

Recommended for ages 13+


Lizzy Mortimer learns about her special gift on her fourteenth Halloween. As she reads the newspaper, the letters on the page rearrange themselves into an obituary for her best friend, Jodi, who isn’t dead – yet. After Lizzy and her grandmother, Bizzy (short for Beatrice) save Jodi from the path of an oncoming car;, Bizzy reveals to Lizzy that she is a Hand of Fate, descended from a long line of women hailing from Morgan le Fay of King Arthur fame. They have a gift that allows them to foresee when someone close to them is due to die before their time, and they have some time to try and stop it; the name of the person at risk also burns itself into the Hand of Fate’s arm until the person is no longer in danger. When Lizzy’s next “death specter” appears – the school crush, Drake Westfall – things get even complicated; Drake is the Last Descendant of King Arthur and Vivienne le Mort, one of Morgan le Fay’s sisters, wants him dead.
Written as a school essay for Lizzy’s teacher,The Death Catchers is written in the first person from Lizzy’s point of view. The chapter heads are named after different literary devices such as Foreshadowing, Aphorisms, and Proofreading; each chapter leads in with Lizzy’s explanation to her teacher that links the chapter head with the story; how Lizzy learned in her class what each device means, and then proceeds with her story. The characters are fairly well-written and the storyline is interesting, with the skeleton of Arthurian legend built in and fleshed out with a more modern perspective that will appeal to younger readers (and hopefully, get them interested in the tales of King Arthur). There is not a lot linking Drake to his role as Arthur’s Last Descendant – perhaps that will come in time, if Death Catchers becomes a series; for this book’s purpose, he is merely the plot device and provides a romantic interest that should keep girls reading.
Jennifer Kogler is a YA/Teen author primarily writing fantasy. Her author website allows readers to e-mail her and offers links to her blog, more information about her books, and readers guides for The Death Catchers and her other book, The Otherworldlies.

Book Review: Freaks Like Us, by Susan Vaught (2012, Bloomsbury)

Recommended for ages 14+


Freak, Sunshine, and Drip are best friends in high school. They also happen to be in the SED (severely emotionally disturbed) class. Jason – Freak – is schizophrenic, plagued by voices he names Bastard and Whiner; he also has the “no-names” that play out as a kind of chorus. Drip (Derrick) has ADHD. Sunshine (her real name) is a selective mute, but trusts Jason and Derrick enough to speak to them. Bullied by school antagonist Roland, they stick together and protect each other. One day, when Sunshine gets off at her bus stop, she disappears; Jason and Derrick are two of the suspects when the authorities get involved, and Jason seems to know more than he’s letting on – or is it just the voices again?
Freaks Like Us gives the reader a suspense story featuring an interesting group of characters – a group of severely disturbed high school kids. The whole point of the mystery relies on their being unreliable narrators, because the reader is not quite sure, through most of the book, what is real and what may or may not be. Throw in a federal agent who is all too willing to believe that the “freaks” are the easy culprits, and you have a page-turning mystery. Told in the first person from Jason’s point of view, the reader is hit with all of the activity happening in Jason’s head – the voices, the flashbacks, and the frustration of having concrete memories just out of reach plaguing him.
The characters’ backgrounds are well-drawn, with flashbacks and memories revealing more to the reader as the book goes along. Agent Mercer is one of the more interesting characters in the book – he is initially drawn as the cop you want to hate, but he’s revealed to be more than a one-dimensional bad cop.
Susan Vaught writes realistic teen fiction; she’s dealt with obesity, sexting, and attempted suicide. Her author website offers information about the author, her books, and interviews. She also writes about things that interest her, like her current love of the book and HBO series, Game of Thrones.

Book Review: Close to Shore (Adapated for Young People), by Michael Capuzzo (2003, Crown Publishers)

Recommended for ages 12+


Close to Shore provides a look at the great white shark attacks along the New Jersey shore during the summer of 1916; four people were killed (three men, one boy) and one was maimed. Before these attacks, sharks were not widely considered harmful to humans.
Believed to have been caught up in a strong subtropic current, the young great white shark was carried from Florida to shallow waters near the New Jersey shore. Not much is known about the shark, but it is assumed that the shark was starving and sensed prey close to the shores of Beach Haven and Asbury Park - two resort areas in Southern New Jersey – and the very shallow, brackish waters in the residential area of Matawan. The shark attacked and killed four men, including two young boys, in shallow waters, leading many to scoff at the idea of a shark attack; many posited that a marlin, sea turtle, or killer whale were all more likely culprits. As more onlookers witnessed attacks, there was no hiding it any longer: sharks were killers after all. Beach goers panicked despite attempts to put wire fences in place to keep them safe and experts came in from the American Museum of Natural History to figure out what was going on. The attacks would later be fictionalized by author Peter Benchley in his now-famous novel, Jaws, made into a movie by director Steven Speilberg in 1975.
Loaded with pictures, maps and news clippings, Close to Shore offers a gripping account of the 1916 shark attacks on the New Jersey shore. The book is nonfiction, but the author attempts to give the reader a glimpse into the shark’s mindset as he moves through his narrative. He paints a picture of a starving beast, driven half-mad by being dragged through a current from Florida to the colder waters of New Jersey, and unable to feast on its prey by constant interruptions. He provides stories on each of the victims, allowing the reader to get to know these people and thus feel for them and their families.
The reader also sees the evolution of a theory through the eyes of scientists who first claimed that sharks were not dangerous to humans, their initial resistance to the very idea of a shark attack being responsible for the deaths in the resort towns, and finally, the understanding that yes, sharks are dangerous and will attack man. It is a solid piece of journalism.
Close to Shore received the Blue Ribbon Nonfiction Book Award.
Michael Capuzzo is a four-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. He spent two years researchingClose to Shore, and released an adult and YA copy of the book. His Facebook fan page is a copy of his Wikipedia page, and his Simon & Schuster author page does not mention Close to Shore as it was published by a different publisher. However you can sign up for author alerts on the publisher page.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Butter, by Erin Jade Lang (2012, Bloomsbury)

Recommended for ages 14+


Butter, as his classmates call him, as on obese teen with diabetes. His relationship with his parents is the definition of dysfunctional, with a father who can barely stand to look at him, let alone talk to him, and a mother who vacillates between trying to get him to eat healthier and indulging him with food. Bullied by his peers, he puts a message up on a school blog where he promises to stream a live webcast of his last meal – he plans to eat himself to death on video on the coming New Year’s Eve.
The news turns him into a school celebrity as his classmates’ morbid curiosity gets the better of them. Seemingly overnight, a group of cool kids wants to hang out with him and invites him to their table; he’s taking menu requests and learns that there are betting odds on what his last meal will consist of. Some of his new “friends” decide to take it upon themselves to put together a “bucket list” – a list of things to do before he “kicks the bucket” – which includes getting him close enough to Anna, a schoolmate that he crushes on. Only Butter knows that he and Anna already have a relationship – online. Under his username “SaxMan”, he has Anna believing he’s a kid from a neighboring school and they flirt online. As Butter’s days get closer, he starts waffling. He has never been this popular, but if he does not go through with his intention, he will be more of an outcast than ever.
Butter is a compulsive read. Told in the first person, we see life through Butter’s jaded eyes and gain an understanding of his motivations. A pessimist who wants to be an optimist, if only everyone would stop letting him down, he feels powerless to change his life because he makes everyone around him responsible for it. He appreciates beauty in life but does not feel entitled to it because of what he looks like. Every character is created from shades of grey; there are no black and whites. Even the bullies have pathos; morbidly fascinated by Butter, they genuinely want to help him, as they would a dying friend, to enjoy what’s left of his life. Readers may understand his classmates’ fascination; in this reality television-centric age, shows likeCelebrity Rehab and Jersey Shore put people at their worst on television for all to see. Butter is a complex character: sarcastic, witty, and incredibly likable. His fractured relationship with his parents feeds a seething anger that triggers his binge eating.
Butter is not a typical bullying story, and that’s exactly why teens should be reading it. It offers many different points of view with well-drawn characters. The adults have their own reasons and motivations that keep the story going, rather than acting as window dressing.
Butter is author Erin Jade Lange’s first novel. Her author website features a blog (Butter’s Last Meal), contact information, and information about her upcoming books.

Book Review: Hitler Youth, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (2005,Scholastic)

Recommended  for ages 12+


The Hitler Youth movement sought to harness the power of youth in Nazi Germany even as Hitler felt that he could more easily manipulate young minds. These are their stories.
Using photographs and text, Hitler Youth provides a look at Hitler’s Nazi Germany as seen through the eyes of the young people who were swept up into the Hitler Youth movement, and some who opposed him. The book follows historical events from Hitler’s rise to Germany’s defeat and spotlights 12 teenagers who were on both sides of the Hitler Youth movement.
We learn about the brutal practices Hitler youth endured under the guise of “camping”, including forced marches and weapons training; we learn how the Hitler Youth was a breeding ground for the Nazi armed forces, particularly the SS. We read, through teens’ observations, how Hitler twisted his words and used deception so that the children never understood the full scope of what they participated in. When the war was over, the Allied forces took these children and teens to liberated concentration camps in order to view up close what they contributed to.
We also learn about those youth who disagreed with HItler and gave their lives in defiance of his lies: the teen who listened to secret British radio broadcasts and distributed flyers, and the brother and sister team who were part of the White Rose group, another leaflet distrubution organization that called for passive resistance. The book ends with an epilogue that follows the teens profiled and where they are today.
Hitler Youth provides a look at Nazi Germany from a vantage point readers do not normally get: that of the teenagers in the Hitler Youth movement. Providing readers with these teens’ own words brings home the impact and the understanding even more, as modern readers are able to better connect with a teenage mindset. It allows for an understanding of how a nation of children could be swept up in such a movement and take part in such activities even as it illustrates the ways that everyday, ordinary teens of the time found ways to push back against the tide. Photographs from personal collections, the Holocaust Museum and National Archives also provide visual confirmation of the events, creating a stronger ability to identify and process this time in history.
Hitler Youth received Newbery Honors (2006); Sibert Honor (2006); Orbis Pictus Honor (2006); Parents Choice Award (Gold Winner, 2006), and the Carolyn W. Field Award (2006).
Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for teens. Her website provides author information, contact information, her blog, and more about her books.

Book Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (2006, Knopf)

Recommended for ages 14+


Nick, the only straight member of a queercore punk band, is playing a show at a New York club when the ex-girlfriend who broke his heart shows up with her new boyfriend. Trying to not reveal how hurt he still is, he asks a random girl nearby to be his girlfriend “for the next five minutes”.
The random girl is Norah, the daughter of a famous music exec, who is all too familiar with Nick’s ex and dealing with a breakup of her own. She finds herself attracted to Nick, but doesn’t want to get involved for a myriad of reasons.
The rest of the novel plays out in New York City as Nick and Norah fall for each other against a backdrop of punk rock, Russian food, and lots of self-examination. We learn more about Nick’s ex, Tris - a friend of Norah’s – and Norah’s relationship with her ex. Tris and Nick’s bandmate, Dev, offer relationship advice. We see the inner confidence crisis playing out in both their heads as they come up with reasons why one couldn’t possibly fall for the other. Ultimately, Nick tracks Norah down at a Russian eatery, where things fall into place as they let their guards down and talk to one another.
Written from both Nick’s and Norah’s point of view in alternating chapters, the authors have gotten the teen voices down pat. Their voices will speak to teen readers who likely have, or have felt, the same relationship angst and the driving backdrop of the New York City punk scene will appeal to many teens, as will the concept of the playlist: a list of songs covering particular themes that Nick creates for his girlfriends. The book comes with its own suggested playlist for readers to download and enjoy. At times, the obsessive self-rumination on each character’s point grows a bit tedious, but will likely appeal to teen readers experiencing the same emotions. The characters are as fleshed out as they need to be, with personality reveals to the reader arriving at the same pace as they do to both Nick and Norah, allowing the reader to feel as if he or she is in real time with the characters.
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written three books together: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2006), Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (2007), and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (2010). Rachel Cohn’s book Gingerbread is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Young Adults, and aPublisher’s Weekly and School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. David Levithan is a Lambda Literary Award-winning writer of teen fiction with a GLBT (gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender) bent, including Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility. His books have also been chosen as ALA Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults and ALA Quick Picks. Their websites link to one another. Random House’s Nick & Norah website allows visitors to make and upload their own playlists, download audio excerpts of their books, and access characters’ blogs.

Book Review: Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman (1991, Pantheon)

Recommended for ages 13+


Picking up where Maus I leaves off, Maus II continues the story of Art Spiegelman’s tumultuous relationship with his father, a Holocaust survivor, and tells the story of his parents’ arrival at Auschwitz through to their liberation.
After arriving at Auschwitz, Vladek and Anja are separated. Most of the story, related through Vladek’s eyes, covers Vladek’s day-to-day survival and the horrors he witnessed – the ovens, tthe brutality, and the daily fights to live and eat. He talks about the friendships he made and the often sobering reality that these friends went away one day, never to be seen again. He manages to find someone in the women’s camp to keep an eye on Anja and protect her, but when Anja is moved to Birkenau, he loses track of her.
Maus II is also Art’s attempt to work through his mother’s suicide and father’s death in 1986. He reveals his being overwhelmed with Maus’ success and his depression at not being able to match up to his father; he also explores Vladek’s survivor’s guilt over Auschwitz.
Maus II is every bit as compelling as its predecessor. Maus introduced readers to Vladek and illustrated the beginnings of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and Maus II tells the story of survival at Auschwitz. We see the prisoners’ desperation, the fights over crusts of bread, and the Nazis’ cruelty. The misery is starkly drawn in black and white. Reading this second half of Maus, the reader can better understand the events that shaped Vladek, including his insistence on having things done his way and his obsession with his money being taken from him. We also see how Art’s parents’ experiences have shaped Art’s life. Surrounded by Holocaust survivors, from his parents to his own therapist, Art cannot separate from his father’s image; an image he does not feel he matches up to.

Maus II received the Max and Moritz Special Prize (1990); Eisner and Harvey Awards (1992), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1992).
Art Spiegelman and his wife, artist Francoise Mouly, have worked together on Raw and The New Yorker. His success with Maus brought critical acclaim to comic books and helped bring the medium serious, scholarly attention.

Book Review: Maus 1: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman (1986, Pantheon)

Recommended for ages 13+


Maus simultaneously tells the story of Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek, and his survival during World War II (including his imprisonment in Auschwitz), and of Spiegelman’s often tumultuous relationship with his father.
The story begins in the 1970s when Art visits with his father and his father’s second wife, Mala, to learn more about his father’s life in Poland during the war for a book he wants to draw. Art’s mother, Anja, also a survivor of the camps, committed suicide in 1968. Vladek begins the story of how he courted Anja, their marriage and firstborn son, Richieu, and how Hitler came to power, bringing with him an increasingly hostile and unsafe Germany for Jews. The story concludes with Vladek and Anja in hiding after Germans begin putting Jews on trains to the camps.
The reader also learns quite a bit about the relationship between Vladek and Art. A complicated relationship, the reader sees Art’s – and Mala’s – frustration with Vladek, who comes across as argumentative, cantankerous and miserly. He is quick to accuse Mala of wanting only his money, even stealing from him and he wants Art should be living more frugally. Maus is Art’s attempt to reconcile Art’s own feelings about his father by learning about what made him the man Art knows as much as it is his attempt to tell his father’s story.
Maus is told in words and pictures, and these pictures have brought Spiegelman under fire in the past. He was accused of racism for his portrayal of Poles as pigs and French as frogs; he portrayed the Jews and Nazis as mice and cats and responded that all of his depictions were metaphorical. The story is starkly laid out in black and white, giving depth to the story and adding a layer of despair as the Jews’ situation worsens in Poland.
The parallel story of the relationship between Vladek and Art is equally prominent and fed by Vladek’s background. His experiences under the Nazis have formed him as they did his wife. Her suicide doubtless affects Vladek but he tries not to speak of it. The reader sees Vladek honestly and will respect him for what he’s lived through while seeing that he is a difficult man to love, despite his obvious love for his son. Vladek and Art have a complicated relationship, which many readers will understand. Maus stands as a very personal memoir of the second World War as well as a memoir of Art Spiegelman’s attempts to grow closer to his father.

Maus won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle in 1986 and 1991; it also received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1990).
Art Spiegelman is an American cartoon artist. In addition to Maus, he released In the Shadow of No Towers, which covers the events and psychological fallout of September 11th, 2001. He does not have a website, but has a page on Facebook.

Book Review: The Academie, by Susanne Dunlap (2012, Bloomsbury)

Recommended for ages 14+


Eliza Monroe, the daughter of future President James Monroe, is sent to finishing school in Paris by her mother. There, she meets Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte – Napoleon’s stepdaughter, and Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest sister. The two young women dislike one another; Napoleon’s family feels he married beneath him when he married Josephine. Eliza falls in with both girls but ends up caught in the middle.
Told against the backdrop of Napoleon’s rise to power in France,The Academie is told from the points of view of Eliza, Caroline, Hortense, and a young woman, Madeleine, whose life intersects with the girls when she falls in love with Hortense’s brother Eugene, one of Napoleon’s officers.
The story, written in first person from four different points of view, is a piece of historical fiction based on some historical accuracy. Eliza Monroe did attend finishing school in Paris at the same time as Hortense de Beauharnais and Caroline Bonaparte. Reading like Mean Girls set in post-revolutionary France, there is not a lot of plot to work with, and the characters are not terribly well-developed. The book seems to concentrate on the romantic relationships that all four young women are trying to cultivate, with the story of Napoleon’s rise thrown in just enough to provide historical background to the story.
Susanne Dunlap writes historical YA fiction. Her website offers information about her other books, author information and availability for school visits, and a link to her blog.

Book Review: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999, Penguin)

Recommended  for ages 13+


Melinda Sordino should be enjoying her freshman year of high school; instead, she finds herself ostracized because she called the police after she was raped at a party she was at over the summer. No one knows about the rape – they just know that Melinda ruined their good time.
Her best friend turns on her. Her rapist, an older student at the school, winks at her, tries to talk to her, enjoying the power he feels he has over her. Her parents attribute her withdrawl, skipping school and failing grades to a plea for attention and show no sympathy. Melinda copes by blocking much of the night’s events out and stops speaking almost entirely. One of the few people she seems to be able to speak with is her lab partner, David, a student who has no problem speaking up for himself and urges her to be more assertive. When her former best friend begins dating her rapist, Melinda knows that she must find the courage to break her silence.
Written in the first person, Speak is told from Melinda’s point of view. The reader gets her sense of isolation as she goes through the motions of day-to-day living, haunted by her rape but not quite dealing with it. It’s on the periphery of her memory, but she tries to move past it on her own rather than relive it. The most developed character we encounter is Melinda, but it isn’t an issue – she’s the person we need to know best; we know whatever she needs us to know about the other people around her. She has a scathing wit that endears her to the reader and shows a glimpse of the pre-assault Melinda. Readers may know someone who has been assaulted, have been assaulted themselves, or need to understand what happens in the aftermath of an assault, and Speak is a book that should be read by teens, parents, and educators alike to facilitate conversations. The 10th Anniversary edition of the book includes a list of resources for sexual assault survivors, a discussion guide, and the author’s comments about censorship and on Speak ten years later.
Speak has received numerous awards  and accolades. It was a National Book Award Finalist (1999); received the Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)  (2000); Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year (2000); American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults (2000);  Printz Honor Book (2000); Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2000); Fiction QUick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2000); and was a New York Times Paperback Children’s Best Seller (2001, 2005).
Author Laurie Halse Anderson writes realistic fiction for teens. Her website offers links to her blog, media, She also provides book club information for teachers and students interested in discussing her books event information, in addition to advice on addressing book challenges, research, and the writing process. She has a discussion board where teachers can collaborate and talk with the author. She also has a Facebook page.