Monday, November 26, 2012

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2008. Print.

Annotation:  Reality television in a post-apocalyptic world has taken a violent turn.  All under the age of 18, and wielding weapons of every kind, participants forcibly selected from their respective districts must fight to remain the lone survivor.  Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen has been chosen to represent District 12 and is pretty handy with a bow and arrow…but, will it be enough to keep her alive? 
Justification for Nomination:  By now, there may not be a person in the world who has not heard of The Hunger Games.  Written by author Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a cross between reality television and war, but a war fought by unusual participants.  In a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, the Hunger Games are held each year in an outdoor arena, manipulated by Capitol “Gamemakers.” The Capitol of Panem is the highly advanced governing body, a cross between Alice in Wonderland and New York City, whose oddly dressed and eccentric citizens seem excited to see a slaughter.  To explain, the Hunger Games are a punishment for a past uprising by the twelve Districts against the Capitol.  Since the squelching of the uprising, every year one male and one female, ages 12 to 18, called “Tributes” are selected by drawing from each of the Districts, 24 in all.  In an effort to honor and prevent the rebellion of the past, the Capitol masks the Hunger Games as a fight for honor and glory, broadcasting the event “live,” in all of its bloody splendor.  Tributes are trained for weeks before being let loose in the arena to fend for themselves in a fight to the death.  Whomever is last standing in the end is sure to find fame and glory, but not without a human cost. 
Enter Katniss Everdeen, the one participant the Capitol never expected.  Headstrong and incredibly adapt at hunting with a bow and arrow, Katniss ultimately takes her young sister’s place at the Reaping, when Prim’s name is chosen as a Tribute.  The story of the Hunger Games is Katniss’s journey of survival.  Survival is but second nature to her, but in the Hunger Games arena, hunting is defined not by satisfaction of hunger, but it is to exist.  To live, Katniss must choose between surviving and humankind, but we watch as Katniss not only survives, but twists the plot in her favor, embarrassing the Capitol.  Rousing unity between the Districts, the Capitol must deal with Katniss, but that is another story to be told. 
The Hunger Games is an entertaining read, no doubt about that.  In many ways, this book is a successful means of motivating teens to read.  It is well-written, easy to read; a hard book to put down.  It is a modern story, with themes that relate to the young reader’s need for excitement.  While the subject of death matches between teens can be seen as disturbing, the narrative is at an appropriate psychic distance for young readers.  The emotional detachment to the other contenders is, what I think, keeps the story from being overwhelmingly gruesome.  While it is an entertaining story, it is also a story of a strong, young female heroine, who is quite capable against any foe.  Katniss works through issues of finding herself, believing in her ability to achieve, and complete the quest.  Through her fight, teens will relate to her rebellious and contagious spirit.  They will also relate to the awkward relationship she shares with her mother, her responsibilities as an older sibling, her feelings as a young woman, and love relationships.  Issues of humanity, freedom, political oppression, and democracy are also at play in The Hunger Games.  It is a story that continues with books two and three, a good motivator for teens to keep reading.
Genre Category:  Fiction/Violence/Survival.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Books, 2001. Print.

Annotation:  Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old criminal mastermind…a ruthless, cold-hearted genius who uses his smarts to break the law…and make lots of money.  After finding proof that fairies do exist, Fowl is on the trail of the biggest treasure in the world; fairy gold.  His evil plan to kidnap a fairy in ransom for the gold seems to be going well -- until he meets an elf who just may be smarter than he is.  

Justification for Nomination:  Artemis Fowl by Irish author, Eoin Colfer, is like “Jimmy Neutron on steroids.”  This child prodigy is a true genius, but unlike good ole Jimmy, Artemis is cold, calculated, and cares nothing about being honorable, but everything about obtaining treasure. And, he’s good at it.  Medical experts all over the world are left dumbfounded and confused by his uncanny abilities.  Oh yes, it may have been better to keep a good eye on Artemis who was too smart for his own britches, but left to his own devices Fowl has created a terrible plan.  Learning that fairies are real, he designs a plan to kidnap a fairy for a ransom of gold, but not just any gold…one ton of 24K fairy gold.  After obtaining The Book of the People, the fairy “Bible,” which describes the history and teachings of their kind, Artemis discovers a ritual that leads him to his captive, Captain Holly Short, who possesses healing powers.  Unexpectedly, Fowl finds he has met his match in this elf, and stunningly, he begins to change his cold, clammy heart, but not before some serious intelligent rule-breaking occurs. 

Eoin Colfer has created a real gem in the Artemis Fowl series, eight books in total.  When we think of overly smart, young technical geniuses, it is easy to think of Jimmy Neutron, the big-haired adolescent on the popular animated television show, who builds spaceships, robots and gadgets.  Like Jimmy, Artemis is just too smart for his own good, but unlike Jimmy, Artemis has no time for kindness.  He is a 12-year-old with a seriously bad attitude, who prides himself in committing “dastardly acts.”  He makes no apologies for it.  Artemis is willing to do just about anything, including kidnapping, to get what he wants.  Initially, there are no feelings of remorse or regret or tweaks of the conscience, but as the story grows, there are changes, growing up themes that present themselves.  It is a story about good and evil, and the consequences of greed.  Artemis begins to soften and learn from others, namely his captive. 

Humor is a big plus in this story.  Colfer’s narration is funny, as well as the dialogue between characters.  Colfer is the “Artemis of humor” as he weaves the story.  The narration is fast moving and easy to read.  Young readers will enjoy this simplistic, humorous style of narration, but also the complexities of character, setting and fantasy world-building.  The story contains successful use of literary necessities in young adult reading  -- we have the ‘quest’ theme, the ‘who am I’ factor, the battle of conscience, good and evil, and consequences of decisions -- all done with a humorous, light edge that make this reading fun and difficult to put down.  With Artemis's change of heart, he just may become the James Bond of YA literature; he certainly has the smarts for it. 

Genre Category:  Nonfiction/Fantasy/Humor/Greed

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Frank, Anne. Translated by B.M. Mooyart. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday, 1967. Print.

Annotation:  Thirteen-year-old Anne Frank gets a diary for her birthday, her very first.  Anne begins her diary with the desire to have a friend who could listen to her heart, for she didn’t have one.  Thus, through Anne’s friend, her diary, we learn of a girl who had dreams of life, love and happiness, but instead witnessed the horrors of a lifetime.  In a secret annex, Anne remains hidden, along with her Jewish family and friends, from what would be certain death if discovered by the Nazis.
Justification for Nomination:  Most young women, like Anne Frank, have dreams of what life will hold; the innocence of believing in a life full of promise, a future of happiness.  For Anne on her 13th birthday, along with things like chocolates, brooches, and books, received a diary.  Questioning her need for such a thing, Anne wondered why she would write in it, and for that matter, who would be interested in the thoughts of a schoolgirl?  Determined, Anne writes this:  “I come to the root of the matter, the reason for my starting a diary: is that I have no such real friend.”  And so, through her friend, whom she sweetly names “Kitty,” we get a glimpse into a life torn by an evil that no human should suffer.  I wonder if Anne could have imagined that what she thought would be of no interest or consequence to anyone, would be read by millions of people?  Her inmost thoughts and feelings, written on paper, “buried deep within her heart.”  Her heart is bare and as we read it, we suffer in sadness as we see this young life grow up too fast, with no chance of seeing that future she so desired and so deserved.
The Diary of a Young Girl goes beyond what any book can describe or tell us about the Holocaust.  It is an unfettered, emotionally honest look directly from a young lady who experienced its terrors.  It is also a true reflection of the strength of the human spirit to live, to have hope in the dimmest of circumstances.  Anne, along with her family and a few friends, enter a secret hideaway, called an annex, where they hide for two long years from the Nazis and a certain fate, if discovered.  In hiding, Anne continues to write in “Kitty,” sharing her heart, her feelings as a growing young woman.  We get to know her, her parents, and others hiding with her.  We also get to know how young people think, the teen experience, and the conflicts that go along with this time of life.  Anne writes in her diary for two long years within the annex, until her last entry on August 1, 1944. 
Unfortunately, The Diary of Anne Frank is banned in some institutions due to Anne’s honesty about her sexual feelings and normal awkwardness as an adolescent.  Who can imagine what this young girl experienced?  Adolescence in and of itself is a time of discovering oneself and identity, yet Anne did this in the midst of an unimaginable situation.  Teens should be able to understand that their sexual awkwardness and issues of self-discovery are normal.  When we ban a book like this, we are telling the teen it is not natural to have these feelings (which we know IS normal).  This book is an authentic experience, which not only speaks to the teen experience, it relates the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust – something all people, especially the young people of the world need to understand.  It is especially poignant when Anne writes her final entry on August 1, 1944, speaking of her feelings about herself, the “two Anne’s.”  This entry is especially moving, considering we hear nothing from Anne again…she talks about how she looks at herself, the contradictions she feels about her personality; these are all things teens feel, and let’s face it, adults do, too.  Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl is an emotionally powerful book that should be read not just once in a lifetime, but often enough to understand the emotional experiences of teens and the specific story of a young girl who should have lived a beautiful, happy life, but was trapped between the walls of an annex and an evil to deep to comprehend.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dickson, Peter. The Ropemaker. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2001. Print.

Annotation:  A spell of protection is fading, and an evil empire waits in the shadows to destroy the peaceful Valley Tilja and her family have lived in for generations.  Tilja and a boy named Tahl, along with their cranky aged grandparents, and an incredibly ornery horse venture into the Forest to find the answers in a magician they have to search for, in a place they have never gone.  It would help if Tilja had magic like her mother, but she doesn’t…at least that’s what everyone thinks. 
Justification for Nomination:  Peter Dickinson is a master at creating other worlds, and The Ropemaker is no exception.  The story of Tilja and her family begins on a cold snowy morning when her mother, “Ma,” does not return from a ritual of singing to the cedars in the Forest – an enchanted place.  For so long, Tilja’s home, the idyllic “Valley” has lived in apparent peace, sheltered from an evil world by a spell given by an enchantress, who unfortunately, is now dead.  Tilja, along with a boy named Tahl, and their two grandparents, Meena and Alnor, a very unlikely foursome, go on a quest to save their home.  Magic is everywhere, except it seems in Tilja, who appears to possess no magical abilities whatsoever, unlike the other women in her family…even her younger sister, Anja, much to her chagrin, has magic.  Magic just seems to, poof !-- vanish with Tilja’s touch.  But, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all? 
Seeking a powerful magician who apparently holds the answer to their dilemma, but for whom they have no name, in land they have never ventured before, is just one of the many twists and turns within this story.  It is a true quest story, with impasses and difficulties facing an unlikely cast of heroes.  True to all successful quest stories, the protagonist, Tilja, seems faced with all kinds of troubles – from caring for their elderly cohorts to an often rebellious horse in a world she has never seen.  But more than that, Tilja needs to find out who she is…and what she is capable of.  Through the story, we watch as Tilja grows and matures in stature and in understanding of her true abilities.  This story is firmly rooted in the essential YA requirement – the” coming of age, who am I quest.”
The Ropemaker is well-written and visually descriptive.  Dickinson’s ability to create visual imagery is amazingly detailed and well-executed.  This work is firmly grounded in setting and world-building, reminiscent of Old Norse tales or the works of Hans Christian Andersen.  For those readers who love to connect to a different world, The Ropemaker will bring them there…but it is a long one.  Like many fantasy novels, this story is lengthy in order to successfully build the world Tilja lives in, but it is not overly done or tiresome to read (and is much shorter than let’s say, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).  
As far as award-winning material, this story tops the fantasy genre  - it contains all the necessary literary qualities that make a fantasy novel successful for a YA reader.  It addresses teen issues of self-exploration and discovery.  Tilja connects to teen issues like being different or unique from peers or family members, attempting to live up to expectations amidst many obstacles and feelings of inadequacy…yet ultimately discovering oneself and others, and finding success in the quest.  There are many fantasy books available to read…the flooding of the bookshelves with this genre has made gems like this one (which is now “older”) a little less prominent.  This is a book, however, that I would encourage a young reader to pick up if they would like to visit a world other than their own. 
Genre:  Fiction/Fantasy/Magic.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Hachette Book Group USA, 2005. Print.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Bella moves away from Phoenix to the dreariest, sunless place on earth...Forks, Washington.  Alone and often clumsy to a fault, Bella has all but given up on the sunshine in life until she sees Edward Cullen on her first day of school.  If you think Vampires are hideous creatures who drink blood, wear long black capes, terrorize the town, dread the sunlight, and oh yes, have no capacity to love...think again.  Edward Cullen will change your mind -- and you just may fall in love, too. 
Justification for Nomination:  The Twilight series by author Stephanie Meyer is no stranger to the literary world, or the entire world, for that matter.  It seems redundant to write yet another blog on this very successful book series that turned into a blockbuster movie, and solidified the celebrity of some really cute actors, and when I mean “cute,” I mean, wow.  That aside, there are some really worth-mentioning literary qualities in the book.  This is a book that has crossed over from being yet another YA novel to a broadly read story by the young and old alike.  The story of Bella, the somewhat rebellious, but likable young woman who has, by choice, left the comfortable home of her recently married mother in Phoenix, Arizona, to live in Forks, Washington, with her father, Police Chief Charlie Swan, is a classic coming of age love story with some supernatural twists and turns. 
Feeling awkward and alone, Bella starts off her new adventure on the first day of high school – a very small, rural high school, where everybody knows your business.  Entering the lunchroom, she gets a glimpse of Edward Cullen, an unusually handsome young man, who sits with his family, all of whom are incredibly good-looking and out of ordinary in such a place.  Long story short, Bella and Edward are immediately drawn to each other, and share an electric magnetism that puts all reason and wisdom aside.  A true love story, Twilight, appeals to all of us who love to hear about love and all of the complex, painful scenarios that follow it – this plays out especially in this story.  Edward is a vampire, but not a hideously ugly one – a gloriously beautiful one, who falls in love with Bella… and shouldn’t have, because, well, vampires just do not mix with humans who bleed…and Bella is what one might call, a real clumsy sort of gal. 
The story of Twilight forever changed the horizon of the “horror” genre as we know it.  This book has the horror and supernatural elements so intriguing to the young reader, but also romance.  While some literary experts feel Twilight is perhaps not well written, this obviously has not done much to discourage the widespread appeal of the book.  Importantly, the plot is creative and interesting, and the characters are well-rounded.  Emotionally speaking, it is easy to become attached immediately to Bella and then Edward.  Stephanie Meyer catches the reader immediately with Bella’s dilemma of loneliness, isolation, and the unknown.  Further on, her writing is able to connect us to Edward and Bella’s deep love and attraction for each other, and the constant battle they face to secure their relationship.  The emotional attachment in the book is really what makes this story so intriguingly successful, regardless of what critics may say.  While the book is not what I would say is Printz material, the story of Twilight emotionally connects to the reader and possesses the coming of age issues all teens face.  Meyer’s narrative style is simple and easy to read, but entertaining and addictive.  I would recommend Twilight for young readers.  Personally speaking, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the book, seen as how I was a bit befuddled by all the fuss about vampires and werewolves, initially.  Unfortunately, my teenage daughter is now fighting me to get her Twilight books back…J

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

Annotation:  To say Arnold Spirit, Jr., has lots of problems would be an understatement.  A punching bag for bulleys, "Junior" is abused and beaten on the reservation, but his home is little refuge for him.  Tragedy strikes over and over, but Junior finds a way to keep going, and believing things can get better.

Justification:  I sat for a long while trying to figure out how I would start this blog about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.  I do not feel that words can really describe how I felt about this poignant and almost unbelievable story (semibiographical) about Arnold Spirit, Jr.  His story caused me to do a few things I rarely do at such a level when I read a book.  It made me laugh and cry; real belly laughs and real tears (and at the same is that possible?) Just an amazing story!

“Junior” is what Arnold is called.  He is 14-years-old and lives on the “rez”, which is the Spokane Indian Reservation.  His circumstances are dire.  Having been born with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), he suffers terribly with this medical condition, having seizures that cause a domino of other issues, but not just medical issues.  His medical issues translate to his appearance, and the constant ridicule of those who live on the rez.  This right here is not funny stuff.  However, Sherman Alexie can take such tragic circumstances and difficulties, and have you feeling sadness, laughter and compassion, all at the same time.  This happens throughout the book. 
Since there is so much in this book that touched me, I will try to give you the gist of one circumstance that is the foundation of much of Junior’s circumstances -- poverty.  Here is one excerpt by Junior: 
                It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor.  You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly.  And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian.  And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor.  It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance.  No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor. (Alexie, pp. 12-13)
This situation plays itself out when Oscar, Junior’s dog becomes ill, so ill that his alcoholic father decides reluctantly to put the dog out of his misery.  Here is what Junior says about this: 
“So I heard the boom of my father’s rifle when he shot my best friend. A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that.”  (Alexie, pp. 14)
In Junior’s story, we see him struggle to find a way out of the reservation by deciding to attend public school.  We feel his deep desire to change his circumstances, to see his dreams come alive as a cartoonist, but there are hurdles, tremendous hurdles and obstacles.  The mountains of tragedy, racism, poverty, and alcoholism, stand in front of Junior the entire way.  But, he climbs them all.   Throughout the story, there are visual references in the form of cartoons, which are done by Junior.  For the reader who loves visuals, this is a great addition.  The drawings add to the story and are also quite funny. 
Finally, if you ever hear a young person (or adult) say, “I can’t,” -- give them this book!  While there are no easy answers here, this is a truly poignant story addressing the “who I am?” question all young adults have.  It is excellently written and authentic in content and narration.  Unfortunately, I was sad to hear that this wonderful book has been banned in some school libraries, but I strongly feel that teens should have the opportunity to read this book.  These subjects are clearly obscured by the overall message in the book.  A young adult will not just remember the controversial subjects like profanity or sexuality.  No, they will remember Junior’s story, and little of this.  It will open hearts to the circumstances of poverty, alcoholism, bullying and tragedy.  This makes the story authentic and real to life.  Junior’s story not only speaks to the teen experience, it speaks to the situations of the poor, specifically, the Native Americans, who sadly, have suffered since the beginning of our nation’s history.  This is something that we should not discourage in understanding. 
Read this book.  I cannot say it enough…it will make you laugh and cry, and appreciate the blessings in life.  And not only that, but encourage what we as human beings can and should do to help each other.  We are all human beings, no matter what our race.

Genre Category:  Semibiographical/Poverty/Multicultural/Alcoholism/Death

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Branzei, Sylvia. Animal Grossology. New York:  Price Stern Sloan, 2004. Print.
Annotation: Have you ever heard of vomit munchers, blood slurpers, owl pellets, slime makers and dookie lovers?  Have you ever wondered why your pet dog likes to eat poop?  If your answer is ‘yes’, then this is the book for you…however, you may want to consider skipping lunch...possibly dinner, and perhaps that midnight snack – especially if a fly has sat on it. 
Justification for Nomination:  This is one gross book – but it’s great!  Sylvia Branzei hit the nail on the head...or should I say, fly on the head, when she created this series about all things gross and disgusting concerning animals, and some bugs, too.  Oh, and she also has other books about Grossology, and you should check them out, especially if you have a reluctant reader.  Here’s why.  The books are fun and informative.  The gross information included about the things animals do is accurate and factual, so there’s learning to be had here.  In the midst of the text (which I might add is interesting in and of itself, with large and varying fonts), there are terrifically gross illustrations created by Jack Keely.  The illustrations are cartoonish and large, taking up random portions of the pages.  The text is mingled in a block type format.  Smaller notations within illustrations give further background and detailed information about the subject. 
For instance, let’s talk about the housefly, one of life’s most pesky insects.  I might add that you may find yourself driving to the hardware store to pick up some fly tape after reading it, so beware.  In the ‘all about flies’ section, we have an illustration of a housefly puking up on chocolate chip cookie; the fly does this so the cookie portion he’s thrown up on will dissolve slightly, so it can be easier to slurp up.  To a fly, it’s all about creating food malts to be sucked through its straw-like tongue.  Yum.  I mean, yuck!  A close-up photograph of a fly is included, which looks a lot like something you’d see in an Aliens movie.   There are facts mixed up in this, too, and helpful hints about how you can keep your food safe, along with your health, which may be compromised if you happen to eat something the fly has thrown up on containing it’s last meal, which regrettably, could have been doggie poo.  So, good advice is to be learned here!
Okay, so you get it.  So why nominate such a gross book?  I am not sure it deserves an award, as the subject material is not necessarily award-worthy in comparison to other nonfiction works like Hitler’s Youth, or Hole in My Life,  which are, I believe, worthy of greater recognition.  However, I do feel that this book is a real opportunity to get efferent and reluctant readers to give reading a second chance.  It has the visual components that keep the stories moving along, and the illustrations are equal with the text, in that you see a great amount of pictures and illustrations.  The text information is interesting, fun, and formatted well.   The words used are something young readers will enjoy; all things gross and disgusting about vomit, blood, dookie and poop are used here.  I would say this is kind of a “boy read,” but I happen to know a young female reader who thought it was hilarious, so it seems to appeal to both genders.  Animal Grossology is a fun read for young adults, and adults.  It contains information about all types of animals, and the gross habits these sometimes cute and cuddly creatures have.  If you have a reluctant or efferent reader, this may be the book to change that perspective.  This book can pull a reader through, and before they or you know it -- the book is done...and mission accomplished. 
Genre Category:  Nonfiction/Animals/Habits.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Brashares, Ann.  The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.
Annotation:  Best friends, Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget, are spending their first summer away from each other before their junior year of high school.  Could it be that a pair of jeans found at a thrift store and fit all the girls perfectly, are magical?  They think so.  One pair of jeans + Four best girlfriends = A summer they won’t soon forget. 
Justification for Nomination:  The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, written by author Ann Brashares is a wonderful story about friendship and the heartache that often comes along with growing up.  Four best friends, who have known one another “forever” are spending their first summer away from each other before their junior year in high school.  Before leaving on their respective trips, Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget spend some time together trying on a pair of jeans that Carmen found at a thrift store for $3.49.  All of the girls have very different shapes, but for some reason, this pair of jeans fits them all perfectly!  They decide this has to be magical, and in order to stay connected with one another, they agree to share the jeans over the summer.  So, the story begins of four girls and one pair of jeans. 
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a friendship story, a real coming of age story that will resonate with teens.  As the jeans are shared between the girls, we learn about their individual and unique stories and experience the range of emotions they do; from love to loss, from life to death.  Tibby loses a new friend to leukemia, Lena finds love but must learn to be truthful, Carmen must face relationship issues with her father and his new family, and Bridget loses her virginity and cannot handle what she has done.  Ann Brashares writes with an easy youthful style, but with it shares deeply personal and complex situations that are relatable and interesting to teens. 
There are many reasons this book would be considered a quality piece of young adult literature.  Importantly, it addresses the “who am I?” quest that all young adult literature must seek to define.  It is emotionally engaging, believable and real life, with topics appealing to teens.  The protagonists experience some painful lessons and challenges, thrusting them into unknown territory, testing their abilities to deal with grown up realities.  It is a heart-tugging story about friendship and life, and how each friend moves on, learning and growing from what they have experienced.    
Ann Brashares is a fluid writer.  Each character voice is well-defined.  Her writing is simple to understand, emotional and age appropriate.  The structure and style of the story is interesting, breaking into multiple points of view, which is very effective, and not distracting from the overall story; a different approach from how most books are written.  The narration does not come off as preachy or working too hard in creating a lesson; it comes across as natural and believable.  There are no easy fixes in the friends’ situations, but wisdom is gained.
Personally, I loved this story and it’s no wonder so many teens do, too.  It speaks to so many of the issues teens face as they move into adulthood.  Importantly, the quest for finding themselves without each other, the ‘who am I?’ factor is the foundation.  Another plus is that the book is a series; a real plus for young adult literature.  This is a fantastic read for anyone who is looking for an appropriate coming of age and friendship story.
Genre Category:  Fiction/Friendship/Coming of Age

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

   Willingham, Bill. Fables: Legends in Exile. New York: DC Comics, 2002. Print.

Annotation:  Snow White’s sister, Rose Red, is missing.  Her blood paints the walls of her apartment, but she is nowhere to be found.  Living in Fabletown, a secret community of fairytale legends living in New York City, Snow White and Sheriff “big bad wolf” Bigby, search for a killer.   

Justification for Rejection:  Fables:  Legends in Exile, Volume 1, is a graphic wonderland.  Set in New York City, “Fables” are living among humans; but living quite a different life than that lived in the traditional fairytales.  For those Fables who can blend among humans, theirs is a life lived in Fabletown, a secret community of fairytale creatures living in a luxury apartment in New York City.  For those creatures that cannot blend into society (like a pig from the Three Little Pigs), a refuge called “The Farm” in upstate New York, is home.  The Fables have been forced out of their Homeland by an evil Adversary.  For now, the Fables have found safety in a world he is not interested in; “a dreary mundane place”, in New York City. 

A spin on the traditional folklore characters created by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen, the creatures in Fables, are, let’s say, a bit different.  Snow White, once married to Prince Charming, is now divorced.  In fact, Prince Charming has divorced Snow White, Cinderella AND Briar Rose.  This guys gets around.  Oh, what all the little girls would think if they heard this about Prince Charming.  Sheriff Bigby is really the Big Bad Wolf, originally famous for blowing the Three Pigs' house down.  So many spins, and so little time to explain them all!  In this story, lead characters, Snow White and Sheriff Bigby, are in search of a killer, the killer of Snow White’s sister, Rose Red.  The investigation leads to a surprise ending through a fairytale maze of characters and circumstances. 

Artistically speaking, the story flows well from panel to panel, and the graphics are amazingly well-executed by some truly great artists.  There are interludes of artwork that are uniquely different as far as the medium and style, and contain no text.  This adds a lot of interest, and keeps the pages turning.  There is a center interlude where the story of the Fables and their Homeland is told, as well.  This is a unique and interesting diversion from the story and helps to put the tale together.  The text is easy to follow, but not simplistic.  The panels are often encased and include fairytale-type artwork, almost like an illuminated manuscript, and this adds to the modern look of the graphics.  This look would be appealing to teens with its modern, and ornate fairytale combinations. 

Although the graphic novel, Fables: Legends in Exile, is a fun, exciting story and is a must-read for teens and adults who love graphic novels and comics, there are a number of reasons why I would not nominate it for an award.  Importantly, Fables does not have the message that a graphic novel such as Maus, by author Art Spiegelman, does, which I believe is award worthy.  Fables is a graphic fairytale, which would appeal to the young adult reader in many respects, however, we know this doesn't always make a book award material.  This novel contains adult themes, visual violence, sexual encounters, sexual language, and in-text graphic language.  Graphic language and adult themes may make the content of the novel unacceptable to a younger audience teen audience, or rather, their parents or teachers!  The story is good, however, it is not outstanding, nor outstandingly moving, and I think an award winning story should stick.  I would say, however, the graphics in this story are amazing in their execution, in format and artistically speaking. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York:  HarperCollins Publishing, 1999. Print. 

Annotation:  Scared and alone, 16-year-old Steve Harmon cries silently at night in his jail cell.  Accused of being an accomplice to a murder and going through a trial, Steve decides to write a movie about his experiences.  He will call his movie, Monster, the name he was called by the prosecutor...but is he?  What will the jury believe?

Justification for Nomination:  Monster, written by lauded author, Walter Dean Myers, is the story of 16-year-old Steve Harmon, an African-American teen from Harlem, who has been accused of felony murder and is on trial for such.  Steve has been accused of being the “lookout guy” for a drugstore robbery gone array with the murder of the drugstore owner.  Steve faces life in prison or a possible death penalty, along with three other individuals; James King, Richard “Bobo” Evans, and Osvaldo Cruz, who all have different stories to share.  In the first sentence of the prologue, the emotional connection between Steve Harmon and the reader begins to take place.  

"The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.  That way even if you sniffle a little they won’t hear you.” – Steve Harmon

Teens everywhere can relate to the range of emotions experienced by Steve, who is facing the battle of his life.  Yet in confronting these overwhelming circumstances, Steve still has hopes and dreams that extend beyond his situation.  An aspiring filmmaker, Steve decides to document his story as a movie. 
With the challenging script style writing undertaken by Myers, Monster is an excellent, compelling literary piece.  Walter Dean Myers is somehow able to snare the reader with this unorthodox format, and this is no easy task.  The screenplay format is initially somewhat distracting; with the descriptions of camera shots, fade-ins, fade-outs and such, but as the story moves forward, the distraction becomes less so as the reader adjusts to the format transitions.  Breaking away from the scenes, we are able to connect more deeply with Steve as he shares personal narratives describing his life, his family and his experiences. 
Monster fulfills a number of criteria that quantifies literary excellence.  For example, Monster breaks from the traditional format using a creative and unusual way of telling a story via script.  It also speaks to the teen experience in many ways, like addressing the pressures teens face from peers, parents, and society.  And, not only is Steve Harmon experiencing these intense emotions and experiences that resonant with teens, the story has a lesson or speaks to the issue that there are consequences for our actions, and often times there is suffering created by our decisions.  The story does not end with a victorious quest, but it does end with hope for the future, and a sense of something being learned.  Importantly, Monster addresses the foundation of young adult literature, which we know is the teens’ quest to discover who they are and where they fit into the world...the ‘who am I’ factor; the search for individuality and identity through perhaps difficult circumstances.  Steve Harmon states this in the last paragraph of the story:
            That is why I take the films of myself.  I want to know who I am.  I want to know the road to panic that I took.  I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image.

"One True Image" of oneself and the search for it...this is what young adult literature should speak to!  Monster, is a truly unique experience to read, and possesses the literary criteria necessary to make it a book of excellence. 
Genre Category:  Young adult/Realistic Fiction/Multicultural