Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath

like-water-on-stoneI think this book should be required reading for all teens and adults in America right about now.  All too often, I find myself listening to or reading about people who just don’t understand why America should step up and actually help the Syrian refugees.  Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that people don’t have any concept of what life is truly like for people who are forced to flee their home and country in fear of losing their very lives.  Without a frame of reference, people have no idea what it is that they are turning their backs to.  I am sick of the, “It sucks to be them, but it’s not America’s problem” mentality.  Perhaps, by reading this story [about three children who narrowly escaped the Armenian genocide of 1915], people can begin to understand what these current refugees are experiencing.  And maybe, just maybe, people can put aside their fear long enough to see that there is something we can do.  We can open our hearts — and our borders — to the huddled masses who so desperately need somewhere safe to go.  I think Master Yoda said it best when he said, “Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”  So, let’s stop letting our fear get in the way.  In this season of giving, love, and goodwill, let’s do our best to put aside our fear and to actually help out our fellow human beings.

Happy Holidays!

First & Then by Emma Mills

first-and-thenDevon Tennyson, much like this book, doesn’t fit neatly into any single category. She is reasonably popular, but not completely so. She has a crush on her football-playing best friend, Cas, but manages not to be completely ridiculous about it. She can hang with the guys, but she can also manage a shopping trip with the girls. And, though she isn’t completely obsessed with popularity, she is somewhat concerned about the impact her cousin Foster will have on her own social life when he comes to live with her family. Why? Probably because Foster is slightly awkward and just plain doesn’t care what other people think.

After his father’s death and his mom’s subsequent plunge into depression and drug addiction, Foster learned to focus his energy on taking care of his mother and himself. He had no time to waste on the frivolities of sports or hanging out with friends. When a gym class drill revealed Foster’s incredible natural talent for punting a football, nevertheless, Devon’s whole life seemed to flip upside-down. With Foster suddenly hanging out with the jocks, Devon started to worry less about how he might impact her own popularity and worried, instead, whether people would treat him well. This was a great story about what it means to look beyond stereotypes and outward appearances and to take the time to get to know people (including yourself) so you can appreciate them for who they truly are.

Happy Reading!

 

George by Alex Gino

georgeI’m so glad my library request for this book was fulfilled in time for me to post a review during Transgender Awareness Week!  Though there are many YA novels that focus on the GLBTQ experience, some of which include transgender characters — like Almost Perfect and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children — I cannot think of a single book for middle grade readers (aside from George) that even mentions transgender people, let alone talks honestly about what it means to be a transgender child. I appreciated the way that Gino brought readers into George’s mind in order to demonstrate how the often-rigid gender roles and expectations in our society might affect trans children/people.

Though the existence of GLBTQ people is nothing new, our society still has a long way to go before many people in the GLBTQ community will feel accepted, let alone embraced. In addition to activists working toward recognizing and providing equal rights and protections for people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications, it is also extremely important for children to have access to stories like this.  Not only so children can build an empathy for people who have different sexual orientations and/or gender identifications than themselves, but also so that ALL children can see themselves reflected in the literature they read.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks is about SO much more than ethnicity.

Happy Reading!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

sunny-side-upI don’t generally read a lot of graphic novels. I used to read some now and again to stay on top of what I needed to order for my collection, but now I just get to read for pleasure. My son is a big fan of both graphic novels and manga, though, so I tend to keep an eye out for recommendations of books he might enjoy. Recently, a colleague recommended this book and I requested it without even reading the description. (She has never failed me before, and I didn’t think she was about to start anytime soon!) When the book came, I saw that the blurb by Raina Telgemeier said the book was “Heartbreaking and hopeful…” I decided to see what about the story might be heartbreaking and whether this story might be too mature. If my son had specifically asked for it, I might have handed it straight over without even noticing, but I figured it warranted a little look if I was giving him a recommendation.

SPOILER
ALERT!

LOOK
AWAY
NOW
IF
YOU
DON’T
WANT
SPOILERS!!!

As it turns out, Sunny was sent to spend the summer with her grandfather in Florida because her parents didn’t want her to have to deal with the fallout as they attempted to intervene and get help for her brother’s substance abuse problem.  I definitely believe that books are a fantastic way to broach tough subjects, and I think this book did a superb job of letting readers figure things out both gradually and without too many unnecessary details.  Though the story didn’t hold back, the storytelling [via words and illustrations] was both subtle and sensitive enough for somewhat younger readers.  Though I initially got this book simply because it was another graphic novel from the author of the Babymouse series and came as a recommendation by a trusted colleague, I’m planning to use this book to jump-start [another] candid conversation with my fifth grader about drugs and alcohol.

Happy Reading!

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras

how-to-be-braveIf you look back over my reviews through the years, you will notice quite a bit of doom and gloom — dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic/survival stories, and realistic/depressing novels tend to be my bread and butter.  I have found that reading and/or listening to too many depressing stories in a row can actually affect my mood, though, so it’s nice to throw a story like this into the mix.  While it had enough to satisfy my strange cravings for doom and gloom, this book left me with an overall feeling of hope.  Georgia was a great example of the fact that, while we can’t control what happens to us, we absolutely have control over the way we react to our circumstances.

Though Georgia was reeling from the loss of her mother, she was also determined to follow her mother’s final advice to “be brave.”  For Georgia, that meant creating a list of fifteen things she wanted to accomplish — like approaching the boy she had secretly been crushing on.  In the context of her mother’s recent passing, one could easily call it a bucket list.  I preferred Georgia’s take, nevertheless, that this was not a list of things to do before she died so much as a list of things to do so that she could truly live.  And while I certainly don’t wish my mother had died while I was in high school, I do wish that I had had the epiphany to stop caring so much what other people thought and to simply focus on living life to the fullest before I reached my 30s.  Granted, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had come out of my shell sooner… but I lament the time I wasted on caring what everyone else thought when my choices would only, ultimately, effect me.

Happy Reading!

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

hatchetI am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never read Hatchet before.  I’ve handed this book out to countless kids operating under the mistaken impression that I had actually read it back when I was in elementary school.  I mean, I clearly remember talking about it in 4th grade… But, as it turns out, I only knew the basic premise of the story and filled in the rest of my so-called memory with bits and pieces from another survival story we read at the time — My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.  Luckily, I decided to take the time to listen to this story to “refresh my memory” now that my son was reading it in school.  (Oops!)

Brian was a fairly typical “modern day” kid.  He spent most of his time on school and leisure activities, and he depended on adults much more than he ever realized.  He wasn’t fat, necessarily, but he wasn’t exactly fit either.  Finding food always meant going to the fridge or the pantry — at most, to a grocery store.  So, when his flight to visit his father for the summer ended with a crash in the Canadian wilderness, Brian was not sure he had what it would take to survive.  The only other passenger had been the pilot, and the plane crashed because the pilot had died of a heart attack.  With nothing more than the clothes on his back and the hatchet [a gift from his mom] on his belt, Brian had to find both shelter and food enough to last until he was rescued…  If he even *could* be rescued.  Because no one, including Brian, knew exactly where his plane went down.

It’s no wonder Hatchet is the “gold standard” for survival stories.  Paulsen masterfully balanced Brian’s hope and drive to survive with suspense surrounding the real-life dangers of the Canadian wilderness.  I think this book would be an excellent precursor to lessons on disaster preparedness and survival skills, and it’s also sure to be a hit with kids who already enjoy wilderness-based activities like hiking and camping.

Happy Reading!

I’m not dead!

nyla2015It appears that, while I fully intended to post a quick little something last week, I merely *thought* about posting something.  Long story short, I was in Lake Placid, NY, for the 125th Anniversary NYLA Annual Conference!  Since I was presenting a continuing education workshop about VolunTeens and overseeing the rest of the YSS lineup, my brain got away from me.  Sorry to anyone who has become so accustomed to my OCD and “mandatory” weekly posts.  Though I am sure the people who follow me on Twitter figured out that something was up!  ;-)

I am about to start writing a book review, but I don’t have long until my kids get off the bus and might end up distracted/waylaid until tomorrow morning.  Rather than leaving y’all wondering what the heck happened, I figured I owed you a quick explanation.  But, yeah…  I need to get going on that book review so I can (hopefully) get it up in the next little bit.

Happy Reading!