Tag Archives: highly recommended

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, 2016

The winners and honor titles are now public!!!  Watch the video announcement here!


Fiction/Poetry

Winner

The Lie Tree
by Frances Hardinge

Honor

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Picture Books

Winner

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Honor

One Day, The End.: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Nonfiction

Winner

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

Honor

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Having read a host of titles this year, I can vouch for the excellence and brilliance of each and every one of our final selected titles. I couldn’t have been prouder or more grateful to having served on this committee. Hope more readers will discover/rediscover these books!

Below are many other titles that I would also highly recommend to readers, by categories:

Fiction/Poetry:

whengreenbecoomestomatoes allamericanboyscurioustaleoftheinbetween

Bardugo, Leigh: Six of Crows
Brown, Peter: The Wild Robot
DeStefano, Lauren: A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Fogliano, Julie: When Green Becomes Tomatoes
Lu, Marie: Rose Society
Nelson, Marilyn: My Seneca Village
Oppel, Kenneth: The Nest
Reynolds, Jason & Brendan Kiely: All American Boys
Riordan, Rick: Sword of Summer
Rundell, Katherine: Wolf Wilder
Savit, Gavriel: Anna and the Swallow Man
Selznick, Brian: Marvels
Sepetys, Ruta: Salt to the Sea

Picture Books:

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Atinuke: Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!
Barnett, Mac: Leo: A Ghost Story
Buitrago, Jairo: Two White Rabbits
Daywalt, Drew: The Day the Crayons Came Home
Fan, Terry & Eric Fan: The Night Gardener
Goodrich, Carter: We Forgot Brock
Henkes, Kevin: Waiting
Hurley, Jorey: Hop
Jenkins, Emily: Toys Meet Snow
Joyce, William: Billy’s Booger
Light, Steve: Swap
Miyakoshi, Akiko: The Tea Party in the Woods
Miyares, Daniel: Float
Nelson, Vaunda: The Book Itch
Park, Linda Su: Yaks Yak
Smith, Lane: There Is a Tribe of Kids
Stead, Philip C: Ideas Are All Around
Tate, Don: Poet
Weatherford, Carole Boston: Freedom in Congo Square
Yoon, Salina: Be A Friend

 

Nonfiction:

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Bartoletti, Susan Campbell: Terrible Typhoid Mary
Brown, Don: Drowned City
Engle, Margarita: Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir
Freedman, Russell: We Will Not Be Silent
Hendrix, John: The Miracle Man
Murphy, Jim: Breakthrough
Pinkney, Andrea Davis: Rhythm Ride
Samanci, Ozge: Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey
Silverberg, Cory: Sex is a Funny Word
Tonatiuh, Duncan: Funny Bones
Turner, Pamela S.: Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

 

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A Picture Book for Newbery! Last Stop on Market Street

laststoponmarketstreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

I jumped up and down when this book was announced at the Youth Media Awards press conference — after the initial “WHAT? Really?  A picture book text?” Then, it was, “YAY!  Finally.  A real picture book has won the Newbery!”  Great job.  Committee!

However, it was not until today, when I finally re-read the text, blocking out all the illustrations, just paying attention to the rhythm, the word choices, the imagery, the heart and soul of this seemingly simple text for the very young that I realized how marvelous a choice this book is for the award.

By recognizing the text, which allows for so much imagination and chances of deep discussions, especially literary ones, the Newbery Committee has affirmed the significant value of finely crafted text for young children.  I can still recite many passages from Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book because I read that book to my daughter when she was still in her crib.  Every night, for months, and no matter how many times I read it aloud, I found myself admiring the genius writing page after page.  I am quite certain that the reason my daughter appreciates poetry and what she calls “good writing” in the adult books she reads now that she’s 16 is her wide exposure to excellent texts like The Important Book,  So Said the Little Monkeys, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Madeline, and many others.

I am ordering copies of Last Stop on Market Street for my Middle School Library and will encourage middle grade teachers to use the book to inspire students to interpret the text as they envision in their mind.  CJ could be anyone.  Nana could be anyone’s grandma.  The boys on the bus with something CJ envies do not have to share ear-buds on their iPod and the imagery of the large tree “drinking through a straw” was never depicted literally in the illustration anyway.  The students in a language arts class will simply bask in the glory of the text like “The outside air smelled like freedom,” and “rain, which freckled CJ’s shirt” and have a rigorous mental workout to understand the implied interactions and emotions.

And ample discussion opportunities for the ending, when Nana does not give her usual deep laugh… now what is that all about?

De La Peña sure wrote a distinguished book!

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The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

alexcrowThe Alex Crow by Andrew Smith was a baffling read from the beginning to the very end.  Baffling but fascinating, engaging, engrossing, moving, and thrilling. I didn’t know where the story was heading and in the end, I wasn’t quite sure where I have been: spanning time and space, from the icy pole in the 1800s to the summer heat of an American summer camp now (?) — encountering the Melting Man (literally,) the refugee boy, the eccentric scientists, the Dumpling Man, and many others.  Or even where we eventually arrived — are we to be pleased with Ariel’s final situation, bonded with his adopted brother and their new found friend, no longer being closely monitored?  Are we to continuously be paranoid of how our lives might be closely examined by unknown forces and crazy scientists?  At least I know to unconditionally love Ariel for his intelligence and compassion.

Since earlier this year’s brouhaha about Andrew Smith’s “lacking” in inclusion of positive female characters in his work, I couldn’t help but noticing that in this book the readers only encounter two real life women: one is a completely ineffective mother figure and the other is a terrifying scientist whose goal is to eliminate all males from the human species.  (I’m not counting the two imaginary women in the Melting Man’s schizophrenic head.)

Of course, introducing compassionate and caring characters (male or female) will result in a completely different story: one that simply wouldn’t have been as brutal to such extreme and thus wouldn’t have had the same level of impact.  If the point is to portray a world for Ariel and his buddies to “survive” in without the physical or emotional support of kind souls, Smith succeeded brilliantly.

And I must mention his ability to effortlessly switch into drastically different narrative voices!  A skilled writer, indeed!

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

goodbyestranger Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

How does an author who already won so many accolades to continue pushing herself for such new heights?

This book has no surprising twist ending: magical or SciFi-esque; it has no flashy mystery elements; it is set in an ordinary school with ordinary middle school students — but yet, one cannot stop reading it because we as readers care so much about the interior lives of the characters (three “main” plus the supporting cast).  It makes one feel compassion and empathy towards all who behave “well” and who might have some questionable motivation.  It also makes readers marvel at the author’s ability to write a “quiet” book that speaks so loudly on the reality of being a young teen who must navigate the treacherous waters of friendship, social dynamics, and power-structure.

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The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

absolutesandman1Artwork by Dave McKean, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and more.

I decided to use a large cover image here because this hardcover, full-color, glossy heavy pages tome absolutely deserves this “in your face” treatment.

I read the first twenty installments (24 pages each) of Gaiman’s game changing graphic novel series (from 1989 to 1991) in sequence and absolutely loved every page and moment of it! Dark, haunting, gruesome, poetic, enigmatic and yet lucid all at the same time, wrapped in such a handsome package.

Even if so much within is extremely disturbing, Gaiman’s stories and the art and layout design make reading this volume a blissful experience.

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Teaching The Graveyard Book in China

graveyardbookFour young readers from Shanghai (ages 13-15) and I spent two weeks together enjoying and analyzing Neil Gaiman’s Newbery winning title The Graveyard Book. The lessons were all conducted in English. We had a lot of fun and here are some of the observations that we made about the book:

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(silly names we gave ourselves/each other)Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 7.53.47 AM

  • The author makes it so that the supposedly bad people (the graveyard dead, a witch, a vampire, and a werewolf) turned out to be super nice and caring.  It made us reconsider our assumptions to the people around us.
  • The author effectively uses verbs and action phrases for inanimate objects to create vivid and poetic imageries: tendrils of fog could insinuate themselves into the hall, the graveyard could keep secrets, and the burnt sun could gaze into the world below.
  • We had lots of fun figuring out what Gaiman implies in his text.  Silas’ true being is, of course, the most fun to guess: so many clues about what he is without the word* EVER being present in the book. But there are many other things that the readers need to figure out: the characters’ moods, interior thoughts and motivations, etc.  In other words, this is a great book for inferences. 
  • Paradox is another literary device used often by the author.  We bookended the course with this paradoxical phrase: “Glorious Tragedy” that Gaiman used to describe what it’s like to be a parent and how The Graveyard Book can be read as a book about the bittersweetness of successful parenting.  This phrase could be used especially to frame much of the last part of the book when Nobody Owens grows too old to be contained within the safety of the Graveyard.   Isn’t “growing up” also a kind of glorious tragedy? I asked the four young readers to contemplate in what ways that “growing up” is a glorious tragedy.
  • Each student wrote me a quick feedback on their individual experience with the book.  All were positive and had strong emotional reaction to the events and characters in the book.
    • One wrote how they appreciated the many new vocabulary words (Gaiman definitely did NOT shy away from using precise, perfect, but not easy words.)
    • They all enjoyed the “guess” work whenever I asked them to infer a particular subtly presented idea.
    • One student who never read a single English language book before this class vowed to continue reading books in English!

I had a blast!  The students were diligent and after the first couple of days, were lively and contributed a lot.  It’s especially rewarding to closely re-read The Graveyard Book and confirm how finely crafted this book truly is, in every aspect!

* SPOILER ALERT — Silas’ identity is revealed after the cover image (for those who have yet to read the book.)

graveyardbook

Silas is a vampire.

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Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang

avatarsearch1avatarsearch2Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang (Vols 1-3)
Artwork by Gurihiru
Lettering by Michael Heisler

avatarsearch3My gosh, Gene Yang really is a super fan of the show and the Avatar universe because he totally understands what the fans want. He gives us a satisfying storyline, complete with a cohesive theme of sibling and parent-child relationships, to a long unsolved mystery from the 2005-2008 TV show of one of the beloved characters.  (What am I saying, ALL the main characters are beloved!  The show was that amazing.)  And he gives us new magical beings and great world elements: the Mother of Faces is such a cool creation. Her backstory, tied with Zuko’s mom’s personal history, fits into the Avatar universe seamlessly!

Mother of Faces

Whenever I watch the show, I am always impressed by how well the show creators did their homework.  Every time Chinese writing appears on screen, it is accurate, legible, and usually in perfect and artistic calligraphic form. Dark Horse (the publisher for the GN extensions) did the same: the letter that Zuko’s mom wrote and that we get to read on the background art is in the formal, literary style befitting the imagined time period (China/Asia a few hundred years ago?)  And now I am reading the third extended story: Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Rift.  It’s all about Toph Beifong (my personal favorite character in the show…) and will apparently bridge her story from the 2005 show to the recent Legend of Korra.  Two more volumes to go and another post to follow.

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