Tag Archives: recommended

My Appreciation for Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

emperor's riddleThis is a brief note to say that Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, May 2017) fits the bill of my continuing search for fun stories set in contemporary China that features Asian American children and authentically captures both the modern day life familiar to western readers and the cultural flavor unique to China.  Definitely a book that I will introduce to the Chinese American mother and child who came seeking books featuring characters that “look more like her.”

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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:

billysboogerfreedomincongosquare bookitch

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:

samurairising breakthrough terribletyphoidmary

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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Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

unusualchickensUnusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Definitely a breezy read with some fun bits and pieces. I really like Kelly Jones’ portrayal of Sophie, level-headed, with plenty of normal kid concerns and normal kid courage. Jones included some not-too-heavy-handed tidbits about how others perceive Sophie, being half Mexican American, being viewed as poor, being “presumed” in not-so-flattering ways.

Since my taste runs more toward more saturated kind of fantasy, I wanted the chickens’ powers (and they are amazing powers) to manifest more, stronger, and add more tension to the story.  However, I can also see how this can be quite attractive to those who just want their magic to be more like everyday happenings — not too many world-altering encounters.

My narrative device-detector antenna was definitely alert for this one and wish that the letter-writing device had worked all the way through.  The really really long, as-it-happens, climatic sections did not work all that well for me: not sure when/where Sophie would have been writing to Agnes in the middle of rescuing the chickens and participating in the Poultry Show (and it is apparent that those letters weren’t written after all the excitement as a report, since Agnes would have known all that had happened and wouldn’t have needed such narration of events.)

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The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

threebodyproblem The Three Body Problem (三体)by Liu Cixin(刘慈忻),translated by Ken Liu

This is a rare experience for me since my encounters with Science Fiction tend to be on the “soft sci-fi” end: where the details of the science employed by the authors are often quite flexible to suit the narrative needs of the tale.  This is Hard Science Fiction and I was absolutely fascinated (even while I didn’t quite understand them) by the explanation of the Three-Body physics problem, the unfolding of protons into various dimensional modules, and how radio waves are delivered and received, etc. However, what compelled me to keep on reading was the realistic and unflinching depiction of the story’s backdrop (from Cultural Revolution era to contemporary China,) the underlying multiple and somewhat conflicting philosophies about human nature, the life story and struggles of one of the main female characters, and the kinship I feel with a specific type of online gaming.

The author honestly and boldly laid out the views of his characters (and one can choose to side with or against whichever view) and the translator faithfully captured and presented the analytical and yet deeply emotional landscape of the story.

Let’s celebrate this book’s 2015 Hugo Award win for being a solid hard science fiction and for being the very first Hugo novel winner penned by an Asian author.

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Magyk by Angie Sage

magykMagyk by Angie Sage

A gentle story of magic and friendship, full of entertaining tidbits for imaginative young readers. Glad that I finally got to read it since the series has been a favorite of many of my students for a while.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

lemoncelloEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

I can easily understand why my 4th grade students have raved about this one: there’s the thrill of watching a complex puzzle being solved, the excitement of exploring new friendship, the coziness of strengthening old friendship, and the novelty of discovering inventions of a high-tech, but still story-filled, library.  Plus a little bit of safe scare: facing down and defeating villains that really aren’t that threatening from beginning to end. This is old school children’s mystery fun.

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Firefight

firefight Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (Reckoners, #2)

This second book in the Reckoners series reads like a complete story — with it central villain(s) being dealt with by the last chapter and secrets revealed. It also sets up the next book nicely, because those secrets will propel the conflict into grander scales. A thoroughly enjoyable book that did not go beyond my expectations, even when some “shocking truths” are exposed. Perhaps because I have been binging on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I read this book, and the two storylines share a lot of similarities especially when it comes to how the perceived good characters and those supposedly bad characters might turn out to be very different from what you have originally believed. So, I learned to mistrust all characters (even the narrator himself) until proven otherwise. This makes me wonder about the recent wild popularity of dystopian novels for young people and the central conflict rooted in a strong distrust of one’s government (or team, family, or friends, etc.)

I am all for critical thinking and questioning authority and demanding clear reasons and transparency when we are asked to behave in certain ways (and when we ask young people to follow certain rules and paths.) However, I often fear that we (as educators) are encouraging generations of young people to question everything every step of the way and mistrust those around them as the default form of interaction with the wider world. Once in a while, it would be so nice to simply just trust since I do believe that large portion of humanity is good.

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Shadow Scale

shadowscaleby Rachel Hartman

Since I loved Seraphina so much and had waited for the sequel with huge anticipation, it was not surprising that I didn’t quite feel satisfied with this second volume. It took me a long time to get through it not because of its heft (almost 600 pages) but because I just didn’t quite feel compelled to know what’s happening next. Partly because I pretty much knew how things would have panned out, that readers would eventually see that Seraphina, after SOOOOOO many pages and chapters of self-doubt, self-pity, and self-blame, would have come through and be the amazing power that helps destroy the “evil side”; and partly because I was really tired of those self-deprecating qualities that were somehow more endearing in the first book. I do appreciate the varied and very invented half-dragons and their special talents and feel emotionally connected to quite a few of them. I also absolutely appreciate the non-traditional relationships between Phina, Selda, and Kiggs. Just wish that I had been swept away by this volume as I was by the first book.

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Life As We Knew It

lifeasweknewit by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I went into this book with a lot of trepidation — believe it or not, drastic gravitational changes to Earth by the altered distance between Moon and Earth was one of my all time environmental fears, probably from when I used to watch Twilight Zone as a kid. Pfeffer managed to tell the story with a pretty tame disaster setting: the town our heroine lived in has faced much milder impacts and although you hear about quite a bit of “the rest of world is disappearing and people have died everywhere,” you only experience her personal (and none of the immediate family members) losses a few times and the heroine’s reactions do not make the readers feel completely devastated. I thoroughly appreciated the author’s ability to show the shifting in priorities, attitudes, and family relationships as the story progresses.

This is a survival story that I can feel quite comfortable giving to 5th or 6th grade students, especially those who enjoy Hatchet.

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The Magicians of Caprona

magiciansofcapronaby Diana Wynne Jones

I haven’t read a Diana Wynne Jones for a while and am so glad that I picked this one up. So enjoyed her storytelling tones: very traditionally British, witty, childlike but with age-old wisdom. The storyline plays off of the “family feud/Romeo & Juliet” trope, set in Italy, nonetheless. Of course, the magic and scenes are all so cool, too. One can really see how other writers like JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, etc., all came from this same magical storytelling tradition. With this one done, I have finished the first four books in the Chrestomanci series. There are two more novels and a collection of short stories to be done — looking forward to those treats!

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Candymakers

candymakersby Wendy Mass
A delightful concoction of implausible coincidences, innocent spying, interconnectivity, and childish pleasures. I can’t quite stomach the excessive amount of sweets being served as main meals but I imagine my younger self would have been quite fascinated. The candy making process and rules are highly entertaining, and perhaps even informative! As most Wendy Mass books, this one is all about how to appreciate one’s life and accept one’s lot while still strive to expand understanding of the world around. No wonder my students love it so much and it appeals to both genders and mystery and friendship book lovers.

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West of the Moon

westofthemoon by Margi Preus

One of my favorite folk tales is East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and many children’s books have been inspired by this tale, such as East by Edith Pattou, a beautiful fantasy reimagining. I enjoyed reading this book by Preus, but due to my own preferences for “real” magic and fantasy, I found myself unsatisfied by the dreams/magical realism/faux fantasy elements in what is really a tale of immigration. That said, I appreciated greatly Preus’ ability to give deep and complex emotions to Astri and her deft hand at portraying vivid landscapes and adventures.

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Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

triggerwarning by Neil Gaiman

This is typical Gaiman: disturbing and unsettling little scenes, interesting observations of human natures, everything floating in between waking and dreaming. My favorite are the longer tales, “The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” and “The Black Dog.” The first two are folk/fairy tale reimagined, while the last one is an American Gods’ short with Shadow’s adventures continuing. Another small dosage to hold us over for the sequel to American Gods? Calendar of Tales with its many weird crowd sourced tales is also highly enjoyable. Oh, I can’t wait to actually WATCH a special episode (of the 11th doctor and Amy Pond) made based on “Nothing O’Clock.”

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School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 are…

School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 are announced. Four categories: Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Nonfiction. Use the list to buy books for your library, find gifts for your loved ones, or for your personal reading pleasure: http://www.slj.com/best-books-2014

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November 30, 2014 · 3:45 pm

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Even though there were passages and descriptions that are overly lengthy, as a whole, the story moves at an effective and at times breathless pace. Highly affecting! I am so impressed with how it set up so many prototypes, from physical descriptions to potential advanced technologies, for modern alien/alien invasion stories. A real classic!

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The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean

truestory by David Almond

Genre(s): Magical Realism(?) Fantasy(?) Parable(?) Horror(?)

Basic Content Information: In less-learned spelling (some words are correct while others are wildly inaccurate,) we read the super-natural, fantastic, and intense life story of a semi-feral child after the bombing of his town when he was born and then locked up in a small room with is mother and visited occasionally by his father who turned out to be the priest who held power over Billy’s mother and many others. Billy Dean then was groomed and turned into a prophet who “telt” his own tale with vivid and sometimes grotesque and gory scenes in a time of raging wars around the world. A combination of naiveté and extreme clarity of how the world functions can be found time and time again in this telling.

Edition: Hardcover

Pub Date: January, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick Press

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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The Great Gatsby

greatgatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read by Anthony Heald
Finally read (listened) to this classic and totally understood why its fame and popularity have held up for almost a century. The tragic love story is laid out so well, subtly at first, then with more and more clarity and force until the readers cannot but detest almost all of the players between the covers, and couldn’t help but pitying Gatsby. It is interesting to me how the “glamor” part of the book is so short and so hollow and yet that’s the imagery most associated with the title. And Nick Carraway definitely is not the naive youngster but an observant, empathetic, and gentle soul whose involvement in all the affairs is not due to his infatuation with wealth and power but due to his willingness to treat others with decency. Perhaps that IS a form of naiveté — but there is a nobility to it and you don’t want him to lose it.

I find it slightly unsettling how Fitzgerald strays from the confine of a first person view point many times to describe in details both factual and emotional events that Carraway (the first person narrator) could have never directly observed. I imagine this shifting of limited first person POV and an omniscient narrative passages is greatly discussed in classrooms around the country. I wonder if anyone writing novels today can get away with this inconsistency?

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A Matter of Souls

matterofsouls

Author: Denise Patrick Lewis

Genre(s): Short Stories, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Basic Content Information: Eight short stories, African American experiences from various periods (voting, slavery, owning a business, current conflicts, etc.)  Some are about families and others are romances — showing the struggles and triumphs (and failures) without reservation.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

Publisher: Carolrhoda/Lerner

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media.  The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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Far Far Away

farfarawayby Tom McNeal

An usual narrator (ghost of Jacob Grimm, the German folklorist), a small town that feels subtly unsettling, and a villain that really creeped me out made this a memorable read.  The book feels like a combination of a classic Hawthorne short story and a Coen Brothers movie — the sinister thread goes through the whole book and you are just wondering worriedly what’s going to happen next… I was not sure who’s the audience of this dark tale but am hoping that it will find some deserved adoration from teen readers.

 

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The Kingkiller Chronicle, vol. 1 and vol. 2

nameofthewind
wisemansfearVol. 1 (Day1) : The Name of the Wind and

Vol. 2 (Day 2): The Wise Man’s Fear

by Patrick Rothfuss

Altogether, these two volumes are more than 1,500 pages long and the audio book versions took about 61 hours to finish.  I mostly enjoyed the listening experience: the first volume is definitely tighter and since everything is new and the world is un-encountered before, I had a little more patience in all the details that Rothfuss put into the tale: colors of people’s clothing, the types of foods, some basic societal rules, etc.  And there are definitely a lot of thrilling moments and some good passages.

The Wise Man’s Fear, though, suffered from being too detailed at moments, too many similes thrown into the passages (that really could and should have been edited OUT of the tale,) and just too long.  I am really annoyed by authors who decided to use a particular narrative “device” and could not keep to the simplest or fundamental rules of that device.  Here, each volume is supposed to be tales told to the scribe within the duration of ONE SINGLE DAY (where people do go to sleep, where the current day contains events such as robbery, lunch, fighting, etc.)  So, almost 1000 pages of words (no matter how FAST one might be able to speak or write down the words) simply don’t compute.

One learns in writing classes that in order to create convincing and lifelike characters, one must know all the background stories (what colors they like, who was their first crush, when was their first experiences of fear and when and why and how, etc.) of the major characters.  But so much of these details should remain in the mind of the author.  Once in a while, perhaps, something can be drawn out and fill in a missing piece of a character’s traits.  But, the Wise Man’s Fear is full of such details breaking through the backstage door and cavorting on the main stage.  It just didn’t work for me.

I also got quite bothered by Rothfuss’ insistence of describing every single emotion or experience with a comparison to something else.  It is OK, Patrick R, to sometimes just say that you feel soothed by someone’s voice without having to compare the soothing feeling to a mother’s gentle touch to a child’s cheeks and the voice is just like a lover’s breathy whisper by your ears.  Some figure of speech enhances a narrative, but overindulgence in such narrative tool becomes tedious eventually.

All that said, did I love a LOT of what went into the books?  Absolutely.  I loved the world building, the mystery, the tentative romantic relationships, the exploration of language, means of communication, and how world history can be shaped and reshaped.  And I will definitely read (or listen to) the final installment when it is published next year.  Still a series worth recommending.

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