Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, mythology, Teen, Tween Reads

Go Greek this Summer!

Ready to move on from Percy Jackson? (Just kidding, you’re never ready to move on from Percy Jackson.) I’ve got a new book for you:

Argos, by Ralph Hardy, (March 2018, Harper) $6.99, ISBN: 9780062396792
Recommended for readers 9-12

Set in the world of the Greek classic, The Odyssey, by Homer, Argos tells the story of Odysseus’s 20-year trip home after the Trojan War, through the eyes of his beloved dog, who waited for him. Argos is a strong, loyal dog who protects his master’s home and family and tells readers all about his beloved Odysseus, the awful suitors who pursue Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, night after night, and Telemachos, Odysseus’ young son, who grows to manhood throughout the story.

Narrated from Argos’ point of view, we get the full story of The Odyssey through reports Argos gleans from animals – primarily birds – who have encountered the hero and his crew on their ill-fated journey home. We also walk with Argos as he hunts those who would do his family ill – wolves and men alike. He has his own fame on the island Ithaka, too: he’s known as the Boar Slayer after being found as the sole surviving pup in his litter, gnawing on the body of a dead boar who slaughtered his family. We read along as he falls in love and experiences heartbreak, and we read his frustration and sadness as he ages and fears dying, leaving no one to protect his human family, and never laying eyes on his master again. If you’ve read The Odyssey, you know what’s coming; if you haven’t, this is an excellent entry point to the Greek classics. Argos is a noble and wonderfully fleshed-out character, given a history of his own that Homer would likely be proud of. Perfect for animal fiction fans and fans of Greek mythology and adventure books. I’m going to booktalk this one to my many, many Percy fans this week!

 

Next up will be a YA novel I’m currently reading, also set in Ancient Greece, so I’ll just give a quick summation here: Annie Sullivan’s A Touch of Gold tells the story of King Midas’ daughter, Kora. Turned into gold by her father, she remembers dying and coming back to life when the curse was broken, but the gods have an interesting sense of humor. Her skin is gold, and she has secret powers whenever she’s near gold. She lives, sheltered from society, to escape the looks and whispers of curses, and to avoid coming into contact with gold, until her father falls ill and she’s the only one who can save him. So far, I’m enjoying this novel, but I’ll report back when I’m finished with it, soon enough. It’s not due out until August, so you have time: go read Argos! It’s great for tweens and teens alike. Display and booktalk with The Illiad and The Odyssey: there are versions available for young readers. Ask kids if they think the gods are any different between these books and the Riordan universe. See what you learn!

A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan, (Aug. 2018, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-76635-3

 

Advertisements
Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Blacksmith’s Song: An entry into African-American folklore

Blacksmith’s Song, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk/Illustrated by Anna Rich, (Feb. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-580-5

Recommended for readers 6-10

An enslaved boy realizes that the rhythm of his blacksmith father’s “song” – the hammer striking the anvil as he works – changes when he sends word to other slaves that it’s time to escape. He waits for it to be his family’s turn, but when his father falls ill, he takes matters into his own hands: for himself, his family, and the slaves who rely on his father’s message.

Inspired by stories from the Underground Railroad, Blacksmith’s Song gives readers a new entry into African-American folklore: some may have heard of the quilts and the messages they provided; some may know that dances and songs like “Wade in the Water” provided coded messages; now, we have the rhythm of the smith’s hammer. Anna Rich paints stunning portraits in oils: the forge’s flame and sparks; the grim slave catchers riding out in search of escaped slaves; the watchful eyes of the boy and his family, and the warm glow of the firelight as the boy takes up his father’s hammer for the first time. A good addition to historical fiction picture book collections and to readers interested in American folktales, particularly surrounding the Civil War-era South.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Never That Far: They never really leave us

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams, (Apr. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-409-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

Twelve-year-old Libby is devastated when her best friend, her grandfather, dies at home. Crippled by grief, her father can barely get out of bed to work in the family’s Florida orange groves. On the night of Grampa’s funeral, though, Libby has a visitor: Grampa’s spirit shows up in her room, telling her that “the dead ain’t never that far from the living”, and that she has to search the lake for something he left for her. Sadly, he tells her that her father can’t see him; he doesn’t believe. To him, “the Dead are dead”. Libby joins forces with her friend, Bobby, to discover the treasure at the lake, but her father spirals further into grief and depression and threatens to derail Libby’s entire mission.

Never That Far has a touch of the supernatural set into a realistic fiction about grief, loss, and family. The Sight, Libby’s family gift, allows her to see and speak with dead family members. Her father has been worn down by grief, enduring the deaths of his siblings, wife, mother, and now, father; he has spent years arguing with his family about their “gift”, refusing to accept it for what it is. Libby’s revelation is unbearable to him, threatening an even greater rift between father and daughter when he tries to stop her from her mission. Together, Libby and Grampa, with some help from Bobby, work to save Libby’s father, who’s in danger of becoming a shell of a person and leaving Libby alone in the world.

The characters are gently realized, revealing themselves to readers little by little over the course of the book and packing powerful emotional punches as they come. Libby witnesses her grandfather’s grief at not being able to connect with his son in a scene that will have readers reaching for tissues. Taking place in the late 1960s in rural Florida allows the plot to remain character-driven. This is a moving story of grief, loss, and renewal that will appeal to certain readers: it’s a good book to have handy for your tough times lists, and for comfort reading. It’s spiritual, rather than overtly religious, and is soothing for readers experiencing loss and moving on.

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Battle of Junk Mountain is underway

The Battle of Junk Mountain, by Lauren Abbey Greenberg, (April 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6295-7

Recommended for readers 8-12

Twelve-year-old Shayne is not having the summer she expected. Normally, she loves spending time with her grandparents and her “summer sister”, Poppy, in Maine, but things are different now. Her grandmother, Bea, hasn’t been quite the same since Shayne’s grandfather died in a fishing boat accident, and Poppy’s more interested in boys and makeup than she is in their summertime rituals. Shayne’s in Maine to help Bea get her home cleaned out: she’s always “collected” stuff, raiding yard sales and thrift stores, but she’s gotten a bit carried away since Grandpa died. Shayne refers to the pile of junk (“treasures”) on top of one table as Junk Mountain, but Bea just pooh-poohs any talk about there being a problem. But there are problems: Bea’s spending is out of control, and any attempts at getting the house cleaned up and selling her “treasures” off ends up getting Bea upset. Alone and conflicted, Shayne ends up befriending Linc (short for Lincoln), the Civil War-obsessed grandson of her grandmother’s next door neighbor. Shayne’s got to figure out a way to keep the peace in her shifting relationships this summer, or it will be the worst summer ever.

Told in the first person by Shayne, The Battle for Junk Mountain looks at how relationships shift over time; Poppy and Shayne’s friendship is going through its growing pains as the two start coming into themselves as tweens, but the big story here is the relationship between Bea and Shayne. What happens when that relationship changes? Shayne has some big ticket items to face in Junk Mountain: her grandmother’s collecting has turned into something bigger than she is, and she’s on her own for most of the novel while dealing with it. She also navigates two friendships: a changing longtime friendship and a new friendship with someone who doesn’t fit in with her usual summer traditions. It’s a gentle coming-of-age story that also has the ability to start a talk about big responsibilities kids face today.

There’s a free, downloadable study guide, with discussion questions and Common Core Standards, available through the author’s website. The Battle of Junk Mountain is good summer reading: easy to read, but filled with realistic, relatable characters that will leave readers thinking and talking.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Get Radical with Fierce Young Women from U.S. History!

The Radical Element, edited by Jessica Spotswood, (March 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9425-8

Recommended for readers 13+

This anthology gives readers snapshots of young women at pivotal moments in their lives and U.S. history, from 1838 to 1984. Written by YA literary powerhouses including Anna-Marie McLemore (Wild Beauty), Marieke Nijkamp (This is How it Ends), Dhionelle Clayton (The Belles), these 12 stories are about young women who are the “radical element” in their time periods; their communities; their families. A young Jewish woman living in 19th century Savannah, pushing to learn more about her faith; a Cuban immigrant, living in Queens (whoo hoo!) and walking the line between her parents’ traditional world and the new, modern world; a 1950s debutante whose idea for her future doesn’t quite line up with her mother’s.  All of their stories are here, expertly told and starring a fabulous and diverse group of females: multicultural and LGBTQ characters all find a home here.

The authors alone make this a must-add to bookshelves and book collections; the stories contained within present strong characters and exciting adventures, with backstories that still hold relevance for readers today. Characters here deal with gender identity, racism and religious persecution, and sexism. These are perfect for quick reads or to binge read like the best Netflix series. Contributor bios at the end introduce readers to the authors.

The Radical Element, a companion to A Tyranny of Petticoats (2016), has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Historical fiction in verse: Blood Water Paint

Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough, (March 2018, Dutton Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735232112

Recommended for readers 13+

It’s an historical fiction type of review day. Blood Water Paint is a stunning story based on true events, told in quiet, powerful verse.

Artemisia Gentileschi is the 17-year-old daughter of Renaissance artist Orazio Gentileschi, but her talents far outweigh his. At the mercy of her cruel father, Artemesia is her father’s assistant, model, and – all too often – the chief artist on the paintings he signs his name to. Her father hires artist Agostino Tassi to work with Artemisia and refine her talents, and she is at first thrilled to have someone recognize her work on its own merit. But when Agostino rapes her, she refuses to play the passive any longer, and brings him to court to keep her honor and reputation intact. As she goes through the grueling judicial process, she remembers the stories of strong women, told to her by her deceased mother, and draws on their strength.

This is feminist historical fiction at its finest. Through Artemisia, we see that women have always had to push back against male society. The very women she paints tell the story: Susanna and her Elders depicts a woman leered at by a group of “respectable” elders; the Biblical heroine Judith, who took matters into her own hands when her husband was murdered by foreign invaders. Artemisia’s relationship with her father is complex: he’s jealous of her talent and berates her, even humiliates her, but when she tells him about her rape and intent to bring Agostino to court, he stands by her – even though he knows, and tells her, that Agostino will not be the one on trial. It will be Artemisia. Sound familiar? Sound like it could be taken from the news this week? Not much has changed.

Artemisia persists, and in that persistence, she empowers every person to pick up this book. She persists in her artwork, and she persists in bringing her attacker to justice. It may not be a justice that suits the crime – sound familiar? – but she accomplishes what most women of the time would never be able to. And this is a true story: Bustle has a brilliant article on the real-life Artemisia, and how author Joy McCullough discovered her thanks to Margaret Atwood.

This book is captivating; a powerful combination of verse and prose that will spark readers’ emotions and start discussions. Blood Water Paint examines issues that are all too relevant today – the perception of women and believing abused women who come forward – and is ultimately an empowering story of a young woman who takes her power back. Put this on your shelves and make sure your teens know about it.

Blood Water Paint has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, Shelf Awareness, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Social Justice, Union Organizing, Dairy Wars, and an Orphan Band!

The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet, (Apr. 2018, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9780763688042

Recommended for readers 8-12

It’s 1941, and things are tense in the U.S. as the world is at war in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta is on the run with her father, a German labor organizer, heading toward Maine to stay with her grandmother, when her father disappears. Gusta shows up on her grandmother’s doorstep with the clothes on her back and her beloved French horn. Her grandmother and aunt, who run an orphanage, take her in, and Gusta starts adjusting to life in a place very different from New York. American nationalism runs rampant in Maine, and Gusta’s last name and status as a newcomer brings some suspicion with it, as does her talk about unions and workers’ rights. Her uncle, a mill-worker whose hand was mangled at the factory, can’t work, so Gusta takes it upon herself to approach the owner of the mill to ask him to consider helping with her uncle’s bills. What Gusta doesn’t realize is that her desire to do the right thing puts her at odds with the mill owner, who has a history of his own with her family.

There is such rich and relevant storytelling here. Gusta is a wonderfully realized character with a strong background in social justice: a background that makes her an outsider in her own country. She comes to Small Town America during a time when there of alien registration drives (it really happened) and extreme patriotism; when something as innocuous as a last name aroused suspicion. Gusta is hyper-aware of injustice and determined to do what’s right, whether it’s bringing union reps to her town or point-blank asking for compensation for her uncle’s work-related injury. It’s her unflinching sense of right and wrong that puts her at odds in her community – and her father’s reputation certainly doesn’t help. Thank goodness her tough but loving grandmother is there to lean on. The Orphan Band of Springdale moves at a good pace, has believable characters in relatable situations, and readers can easily draw parallels between 1941 and today.

An author’s note reveals the very personal connection between the author and Gusta’s story. Readers can download a discussion guide and author’s notes from Candlewick’s website. The Orphan Band of Springdale has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and the Bulletin of the Center for Chidren’s Books.