Category Archives: award winners

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisI am always frustrated when people try to ban books that speak about the harsh realities of human history.  I can sort of understand wanting to shield children from those atrocities, but to what end?  Especially when those books are being challenged at the high school level, at a time in their academic careers when students are supposed to study the events of global history.  I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t remember much of what we learned about Iran from the lectures of my global history class, but I am fairly certain I won’t ever forget Satrapi’s story.  Not only does this graphic novel provide an accurate timeline, but it also illustrates, with both words and images, how the Iranian people were affected by the Islamic Revolution.  Sure, I found some of the stories/images to be upsetting — particularly the scenes in which men recalled the ways in which they were tortured — but no more so than stories and images from my studies of the Holocaust.  The way I see it, we owe it to our children to be real with them so they can fully appreciate the current situation in Iran.

Experiencing this revolution through the eyes of a child helped me to understand, on a very basic level, both the scope of what happened and the complexities of Iranian history that are glossed over in a classroom.  Things are not nearly as “black and white” as many people would like to believe.  I won’t soon forget the mix of sadness and fascination Marjane experienced, for example, when she listened to her Uncle Anoosh’s stories about his life in exile and then when he was captured and put in prison; nor her anguish when he was sent back to prison and she could be his only visitor.  History textbooks don’t usually appeal to me, but narratives like this are hard to put down!  I was very impressed to see how seamlessly Satrapi included names and dates vital to learning about the revolution within the context of such a compelling story.

I think that a first person account, such as this, makes it much easier for readers to understand how some people could have been manipulated to accept the extreme changes that were made — like the re-writing of textbooks, moving away from bilingual and coed schools, and making women and girls wear veils in public.  (FYI, in case you didn’t already know, fear is an amazingly effective motivational tool.)  Yet, I found that my disgust at the tactics used against these people was outweighed by hope.  It was inspirational to learn about people who found the strength to stand up for what they believed in and to revolt against what they knew to be wrong, despite all they stood to lose.  I can only pray that this message of hope is what young people take away from this story and that future generations turn that hope into actions that will bring about peace.

Happy Banned Books Week!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

when-you-reach-meThis book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction.  I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it was well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid.  I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story.  I was curious about how things would play out in the end and all, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.

One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach.  The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack.  Even worse?  Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant.  Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood.  And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out.  Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet.  Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences drew parallels to that book and made her question the real possibilities of time travel.  I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.

Happy Reading!

Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

laughing at my nightmare I was shocked to see that this book was a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist.  Not because I didn’t think it was deserving, though, but because I was shocked it didn’t actually win!  Shane Burcaw’s self-deprecating sense of humor and unwavering positivity in the face of adversity have already garnered tens of thousands of readers for his blog [], so it comes as no surprise that the book has also been universally well-received.    Continue reading

A Corner Of The Universe by Ann M. Martin

corner of the universeYou may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons.  First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on!  Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions.  Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer…  Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to  keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time.  :-)

Continue reading

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk_Two_MoonsI first thought about reading this book when I helped a student request it for her summer reading assignment about ten and a half years ago.  Since there was a wait list of students who needed it for their assignment, I decided not to add a hold for myself.  (I thought it would be unfair to the kids who really needed it.)  Every summer I thought to myself, “I need to remember to read that when summer is over.”  And, every year, I’ve had such a long “to be read” pile when summer reading ended that this book was added to my “I’ll read this book someday” list.  At the end of the summer this year, though, the planets finally aligned.  I only had one week left before I was on vacation with my family, so I wanted an audiobook short enough that I could finish it before the week was up.  Even though it was still summer reading season, this audiobook was available on OverDrive, and I went for it! Continue reading

Ironman by Chris Crutcher

IronmanChris Crutcher is most definitely one of my all-time favorite YA authors.  Not only is he not afraid to tell it like it is in his books, but he also tells it like it is in the “real world” via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Stotan Unplugged.  No matter how controversial a topic may be, he doesn’t feel the need to censor himself.  He believes (and I fervently agree) that teens should not be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world.  If teens have the potential to *live* something, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t *read* about it?  Sadly, I don’t have a review for the first Chris Crutcher book I read — Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes — because I read it before I started this blog.  But, I have reviews for several other books that I’ve read since then [Angry Management, Deadline, King of the Mild Frontier, Period 8] if you are not familiar with his books and would like a little primer.  I have no idea how I managed to work nearly 10 years as a Tween & Teen librarian before reading Ironman (and without yet reading Whale Talk and Stotan!), but I suppose I just need to pace myself and I will get there.

Ironman is the story of a seventeen-year-old guy named Beauregard Brewster (a.k.a. Bo) who is training for a triathlon.  Balancing home life, school work, and training would be challenging enough for most teens, but Bo also has to deal with a father who constantly belittles him and even schemes to try and make him lose that race.  Many times, teens who experience problems at home find that school is a safe haven, but Bo has issues with his English teacher and former football coach, Coach Redmond, as well.  Fortunately, he has a couple of adults in his life who actually have his best interests in mind — Mr. Serbousek, who teaches Bo’s journalism class and also coaches him in swimming, and Mr. Nakatani (aka Mr. Nak), who runs the anger management group Bo has to attend in order to avoid a suspension over an argument with Coach Redmond.  While it can be depressing to read about the [based-on-reality] terrible parents that some kids have to deal with, books like this also serve as a beacon of hope for teens who are living through similarly terrible situations.  Whether it’s just realizing that their situation is not unique or finding hope that the situation can actually get better, albeit with lots of time and plenty of work, books like this definitely matter to teens.  Here’s to hoping you only need this book to make you aware of other people’s problems…

Happy Teen Read Week!

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

everybody-sees-the-antsLucky Linderman’s father patently refuses to acknowledge the problems in his life.  It doesn’t matter whether the problem is growing up fatherless (his father was a POW/MIA soldier in Vietnam), his failing marriage, or his son’s troubles with a bully named Nader McMillan.  He pretty much walks away and tunes out from life when things start to get uncomfortable — often retreating to his job at what Lucky refers to as “Le Fancy-Schmancy Cafe.”  Lucky’s mom is just as bad.  She, too, refuses to acknowledge that her marriage is falling apart and ignores the bullying situation.  (She just doesn’t have as hefty an excuse as her husband.)  Even after Nader takes things too far and hurts Lucky pretty badly, his parents still choose to avoid confrontation and merely plan for Lucky and his mom to go away for the summer.  Staying with relatives in Arizona doesn’t do anything for fixing the marriage or bullying problems, but Lucky does end up making some friends while he’s there.  He also starts working out, under the tutelage of his uncle, and gains a little confidence in the process.  The only question is whether that will do him any good when he returns home.

Though most of this story is fairly standard for YA contemporary realistic fiction, there’s one thing that pushes this book pretty far into the realm of magical realism.  Lucky visits his [POW/MIA] grandfather in his dreams.  For real.  As in, he comes out of his dreams with physical tokens of where he has been.  (It actually reminds me a bit of The Dream Thieves, which is the second book of The Raven Cycle.)  Though I am sure none of the teens who read this book are actually traveling to visit long-lost relatives in their dreams, I am sure a great many of them can relate to the generalized family issues and bullying Lucky experiences.  I only hope that Lucky’s realizations and growth will inspire readers to be more proactive in response to their own problems.

Happy Reading!