Saturday, March 14, 2015

miracles can occur

A woman I adore has cancer. 

News like that can knock you over.

Her mantra has been:
"Where there is hope there can be faith. Where there is faith, miracles can occur."

This has left me thinking about miracles a lot. I have been thinking things like, "What are miracles? Do they exist? Who gets them? Does God give them out or do we create our own?"

Then, at the bookstore the other day, I saw a middle grade novel: The Question of Miracles by Elana K Arnold. I knew I had to read it.

It was truly, wonderfully honest. I love a middle grade book that is willing to explore tough topics like death and hope and faith and religion. This book navigated the tricky waters of looking for answers from psychics, therapists, science, and the Vatican. 

If, like me, you've ever wondered about miracles, read this book.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

capture the feeling of summer

"Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."
- Alice Walker 

I finally read the graphic novel, This One Summer by cousins Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. This One Summer is the first graphic novel to ever receive a Caldecott honor and the second to finish in the Printz final circle.

And, after reading it, I couldn't help but think of the above Alice Walker quote.

Do you know a 12 - 14 year-old who likes graphic novels? Or a 12 - 14 year-old caught in that in-between time that can be so beautifully represented in a summer? This is the book for them.

This One Summer lands somewhere between cozy childhood and complex adult life. There were times when I saw myself as inquisitive, sensitive Rose. And, at the same time, I was the confident-in-her-own-skin Windy.

The story skillfully portrays the emotional ups and downs of adolescence, teen life, and womanhood. 

The illustrations are amazing...

Get this book for all the 12 - 14 year-olds you know. Their emerging womanhood will thank you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

an adorably cute romance story

If you are looking for an adorably cute romance story, A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall is just the book for you.

The story is told in 14 different perspectives, and none of those are from the main character. Lea and Gabe go to the same college, are in the same creative writing class, go to the same Starbucks, order the same Chinese food... but despite a mutual crush, it never seems to work out. Everyone else can see their obvious connection: the bus driver, the teacher, the barista, the waitress, even a squirrel! Very clever.

This is a fun book for teens. It's a little something different: a courtship/non-courtship in multiple perspectives, a look at how our own perceived problems can get in the way of happiness, a love story told by the people around the main characters. Each different take on the unfolding relationship is perfect for teen readers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

an altogether memorable reading experience

"Were we all, the whole upper crust of Russian society, so totally insensitive, so horribly obtuse, as to not feel that the charmed life we were leading was in itself an injustice and hence could not possibly last?" - Nicolas Nabokov, Bagázh: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan

If you have read the wonderful book, Amelia Lost, then you know the acclaimed author, Candace Fleming. Her newest book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia, is a fantastic, nonfiction, middle-grade work of history - but, actually, it is so much more than that. The Family Romanov is a remarkable human story that will intersect with the lives of readers on many levels. There's political repression, malevolent characters, economic extremes, social injustice, and problematic extravagance.

Before Part One begins, Candace Fleming gives us a quick tutorial of the story and setting. Russia 1903, "The Chosen" and "All Does Not Glimmer" stayed with me long after finishing the book. It is a part of history that is a recurring theme.

Reading the book, and knowing the outcome all along, we see so many signs of the unfolding human catastrophe. Readers will be able to see how individuals, historical moments, and failed decisions link together for disastrous results.

The book focuses on the last tsar, Tsar Nicholas II, and his family. And, how a long line of missteps bring an end to 300 years of Romanov rule.

"For readers who regard history as dull, Fleming’s extraordinary book is proof positive that, on the contrary, it is endlessly fascinating, absorbing as any novel, and the stuff of an altogether memorable reading experience." —Booklist, Starred

Don't miss Candace Fleming's account of writing The Family Romanov. Or her interview with Mr. Schu over on "Watch. Connect. Read."

Read this book! Read this book with a friend or parent and discuss how it connects with your own life. Discuss how it relates to the dystopian novels you've read. Sometimes history is as fascinating as fiction.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

how perilous

I pre-ordered Ally Carter's new book All Fall Down: An Embassy Row Novel. When it arrived I couldn't remember who had told me to read it. Was it a John Green recommendation? A New York Times favorite? I can't remember. It is the first in a series of  YA political thrillers - not usually my style.

But I did like it, and I can see teens flocking to the strong-willed, rebellious heroine, Grace.

The book is set in an American Embassy in the fictional country of Adria. 
"On Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall."

One of my favorite parts of the book: 
We walk silently down the gallery, the portraits looming large over us - kings and queens still keeping a watchful eye over the land so many people had died for.
"What about them?" I ask, pointing to the only portrait in the room that shows an entire family.
"Oh, well, in many ways, they are our most famous royals." The prime minister laughs, but it is not a joyful sound. "That is King Alexander the Second, his wife, and their two sons. There was a daughter, too, but she was just a baby at the time - so young they hadn't even commissioned a portrait of her yet. Alexander ruled during a terrible famine. The wells were dry. The crops were dead. And almost the entire region was at war. The people were hungry and frightened, and they grew to distrust the monarchy. One night, the royal guard rebelled. They left their posts and threw open the gates. The people stormed the palace and dragged Alexander and his family from their beds."
"They were murdered?" I ask.
The prime minister nods grimly. "Power has always corrupted, my dear. Even the promise of power. It is a hard thing to look at through a fence for hundreds of years without wondering what it would be like on the other side."
"But Adria still has a royal family?" I say, confused.
"We do indeed," the prime minister says. "The great tragedy began what is known as the War of the Fortnight. In the end, the rebels surrendered and the king's brother took up the throne. The monarchy was restored - this time with a house of parliament and a prime minister." He gives a slight bow, as if the tale had conjured him out of magic.

I think I loved this part of the story because I had just read the book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming. And, I had just watched the Crash Course video on Iran's revolutions... and V is studying about the French Revolution and we were just discussing the Habsburg family. But, maybe I loved it the most for Grace's realization and following comment:
"I look back at the painting of the dead king and queen and the two little princes who were dragged from their beds. For the first time I realize how perilous peace can be. I appreciate the tightrope that my grandfather has spent his whole life trying to walk. And now, more than ever, I grow terrified that I am going to make us all fall down."

This is a great book for teens who like reading about political intrigue, exploring the idea of nationalism, and the illusion of power.

Two quotes to keep in mind as you read All Fall Down:
"Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best."  - Edward  Abbey  
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." - Lord  Acton 
Get this book for the teens you know who are studying politics and revolution. Get it for those you know who love guarded secrets and surprising revelations.

Friday, February 27, 2015

the wanderings

I read the book, All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. If you know a teen, you should definitely share this book with them.

The blurb on All The Bright Places is:

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

But, I don't think that's fair. I loved The Fault In Our Stars and Eleanor and Park, but I think ATBP has the potential to be loved on its own - not in comparison to other books. 

It's a book about mental illness and suicide and post traumatic stress and anguish and beauty and romance and being a teen.
"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places."  - Ernest Hemingway

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of a bell tower at school - six stories above the ground - it's unclear who saves whom.

I loved this book. There was even a reference to Candy Chang's Before I Die walls - which I have always loved since they began in New Orleans.
"Before I die... it says on what looks like a giant chalkboard. And there below these giant white letters are column after column, line after line, that say Before I die I want to ________________. And the blanks have been filled in with different colors of chalk, smudged and half melted from the rain and snow, in all different handwriting.
We walk along reading. Before I die I want to have kids. Live in London. Own a pet giraffe. Skydive. Divide by zero. Play the piano. Speak French. Write a book. Travel to a different planet. Be a better dad than mine was. Feel good about myself. Go to New York City. Know equality. Love."

This book will inspire many wonderful conversations. If you are a teen, read it with your parents and friends. If you are a parent, read it with your teen. Start a wandering of your own. Read the Author's Note together. Talk about suicide and mental illness. Ask each other about abuse and bullying and ways to help. Talk about beauty and the poetry of Virginia Woolf.

Read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven before it becomes a movie. You'll be glad you did!
"The thing I realize is that it's not what you take, it's what you leave." - Ultraviolet Remarkey-able

Thursday, February 26, 2015

some people just really like donuts

"You can't get to where you're going without being where you've been."

"And you couldn't be anywhere at all without having been almost there for a while."

I recently read the book Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff and I can't stop thinking about it. I keep wondering how Albie is getting on now.

Albie is a thoughtful, middle-grade character. You will be cheering for him and his average abilities right from the get-go. Albie struggles at school, is harassed by bullies, and pressured to excel by his parents. 

Albie is not the smartest, or the tallest, or the most athletic, or the most musical, or the best artist. But Albie is endearing and thoughtful. He is almost good at many things, but not quite good enough - academically he is plodding along in a below average way.

Readers will root for Albie. Kids will adore his babysitter, Calista, and wish they could be part of Math Club with Mr. Clifton.
"I hoped I could accidentally do math some more. It turned out that was the best way to do it."
Get this book for readers you know who are thoughtful, who are perceptive, who are wonderful at noticing, who are average or just below average.

Get this book for the parents you know who are still learning how to parent the wonderful children they have, rather than the exceptional children they wish they had.

This book will help you be who you are - I'm absolutely almost certain of it.