Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Lost Boys chronicles the Iran-Iraq War through a boy soldier’s eyes

Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt, (Aug. 2017, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627797580

Recommended for readers 9-14

Twelve year-old Reza is a musical prodigy living in 1982 Iran. He lives with his widowed, fundamentalist mother, and craves visits from his Uncle Habib; a member of the resistance, he also encourages Reza’s love of music by slipping him cassettes of artists from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk. His mother pushes him to join the war effort, telling him she would be proud to have her son die in service of Allah. Reza wants nothing to do with the conflict, but when his uncle is killed and his best friend, Ebi, signs up to serve, Reza feels he has nothing left without his best friend, and signs on. He and Ebi receive their “keys to heaven” – plastic keys that serve as symbols that they will achieve paradise when they die in service to Iran and the Ayatollah – and are sent into battle. War is not the glorious battle that Ebi dreamed about; it’s not full of exciting moments like he and Reza have seen in the movies. The boys are fodder for the minefields – tied together and sent into battle to clear the way for older troops. Reza is injured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where he meets other boys his age and desperately tries to learn Ebi’s fate as he endures abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison guard.

I couldn’t put Lost Boys down, choosing instead to disregard my normal sleep schedule until I finished the last page. Reza is a heart-achingly real character based on far too many child soldiers. He and his classmates are promised glory and fed lies; in the end, all he lives for is the hope that he’ll be reunited with his best friend and live to enjoy music again. Set in 1982, the story is more relevant now than ever, as children are still pressed into service all over the world. Booktalk Lost Boys with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for tween and teen readers; booktalk with Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine to illustrate the worldwide epidemic of using children as combatants. This article from Global Citizen shines a light on seven countries that still use child soldiers, and what we can do to help stand against the practice.

Lost Boys is an important book that sparks outrage and empathy, and is a must-add for collections. I’d love to see this on next summer’s reading lists.

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

Momma, let your babies grow up to be feminists: A look at Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie

Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, (Sept. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726352

Recommended for readers 13+

This is one of the best books I will read this year. Vivian is a high schooler who is just DONE. She lives in a small Texan town that lets the football team run wild. They get away with chauvinist garbage all day long, from wearing explicit t-shirts, to telling girls to “make me a sandwich”, to groping in the hallways. The teachers – and the principal, whose son is the star player on the team – all dismiss the girls’ concerns. They have routine clothing checks to make sure the girls’ clothing doesn’t “tempt” the guys. This, my friends, happens every day in schools all over the U.S.

Vivian has had enough. The daughter of a 90’s Riot Grrl, she takes action by anonymously starting up a ‘zine called Moxie; initially, the ‘zine is her way of blowing off steam, but girls at school start responding. They answer Moxie’s call, whether it’s to identify one another by doodling stars on their hands, or showing up to protest dress code checks by wearing bathrobes and fuzzy slippers. Vivian isn’t the only one sick of the old guard. The girls’ soccer team has been wearing uniforms older than dirt, so Moxie Girls – as the girls name themselves – hold a bake sales and craft fairs to raise money for new uniforms. The girls at school unite thanks to Moxie, and before she realizes what’s happened, Vivian finds herself leading a movement from within.

I ADORE this book. It’s as empowering for women as it is for teens, who must read this book. I loved Viv’s mom as much as I did Viv, because I get that mom. She keeps her Riot Grrl stuff in a box labeled, “My Misspent Youth”; she’s working to pay the bills, relies on her parents probably a little more than she’d like, and she’s just damned tired. Riot Grrls don’t die; we’re still here, we just have a lot of stuff to do, man. But look to our kids. Viv may be the “good girl” at school, but once she’s fed up, she falls back on some solid third-wave feminism and makes a ‘zine while listening to Bikini Kill. It’s a call to action for every single person who picks up this book, and we’re not leaving the boys out this time: Viv’s boyfriend shows up for her, always supports her. But it’s Viv who is the strong character here, making him understand that the “not all guys” thinking is a cop-out, or even holding her relationship at arm’s length to figure things out.

Moxie is everything good and important about feminism and YA fiction, and if you haven’t added it to your TBR yet, you need to go do that right now. Go make a ‘zine while you wait; here’s a link to my meager Pinterest board so far. And if you can’t wait until Moxie hits shelves in a week, read an excerpt from feminist YA novel ‘Moxie’ from EW magazine.  Amy Poehler’s production company already has the film rights, so that should tell you volumes about the excitement behind this book.

 

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

Mari’s Hope brings Odin’s Promise to a beautiful close

Mari’s Hope, by Sandy Brehl (Sept. 2017, Crispin Books), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-883953-89-8

Recommended for readers 9-12

The conclusion of Sandy Brehl’s Odin’s Promise trilogy is finally here! Mari’s Hope continues the story of Mari, a Norwegian girl living under the German occupation during World War II. Mari, who was 11 when the story began, is approaching age 14 when the latest book begins. Her family is active in the resistance, and Mari’s involvement increases as she is older now, willing and able to take greater risks. She works with the local doctor to care for the sick and elderly in her village, Ytres Arna; travels to the city of Bergen to procure more medicine – and information – for her village, and tries to stay out of the way of the Nazi officers who live in her home; particularly the one she calls Goatman, who is a drunk and a thief.

Written in third-person narrative with first-person journal entries from Mari to her brother, Bjorn, Mari’s Hope is written with the same gentle strength as the previous two entries in the series. We see Mari grow over the three books from girl to young woman – a change that has come too quickly under the occupation – and deal not only with being a member of the Norwegian resistance, but with the stress of worrying about her brother; grieving her dog, Odin, killed by Nazi soldiers in the first book; struggling with a former friend who threw in his lot with the NS – Nasjonal Samling – Norway’s version of Hitler Youth. The family and neighbors stick together, sharing what little they have to provide for one another, whether it’s to have a birthday party for Mari or a holiday dinner for Jul. There are tense moments that kept me turning pages, sometimes biting my lip with concern, and there are moments where I just needed a moment to process my relief. Sandy Brehl never whitewashes the German’s devastation; rather, she states it quietly, eloquently, and leaves it there for Mari – and us – to process and move on.

The Odin’s Promise trilogy is a gorgeously written series of books that take us into a part of World War II history we don’t often hear about. Hitler invaded Norway with the lie that he was sending soliders to “protect” his “Viking brothers”, but proceeded to strip all freedoms from them and tried to supersede his vision of Aryan superiority over their rich culture. Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift, and Mari’s Hope tell this story through the experiences of one village, one family, one girl, who pushed back. I love spending time with Mari and her family; while I’m sad to see this story end, the beauty of books lies in knowing I can meet them again whenever I want to.

Odin’s Promise received the 2014 Midwest Book Award for Children’s Fiction. It was also noted as one of A Mighty Girl’s Best Girl-Empowering Books of 2014 and one of Foreword Magazine’s Ten Best Indie Middle Grade Novels of 2014.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Radium Girls meets YA fiction with Glow

Glow, by Megan E. Bryant, (Sept. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807529638

Recommended for readers 12+

Julie should be starting college in the fall, but she used up all her savings to bail her mother out of debt. Frustrated and embarrassed, especially when her friend drops money on crazy shopping trips while Julie counts every cent. They wander into a thrift store where Julie discovers an antique painting that reveals a hidden, glowing image in the dark. Locating the rest of the paintings becomes Julie’s obsession; as she tracks down the paintings and the painter’s identity, she discovers that the paintings were made by and tell the story of the Radium Girls – young women who worked in factories, using radium paint to make glow-in-the-dark watches for the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.

The dual narrative keeps the novel moving at a fast pace, but it is Liza and Lydia’s story – the Radium Girls – that gripped me even more than Julie’s. If you haven’t yet read Kate Moore’s Radium Girls, I highly recommend it; the story of the women who were slowly poisoned over time is heartbreaking and infuriating, but so important to read and know. Glow is a great introduction to the subject on a middle school/YA level; the letters from Lydia to her betrothed, Walter, a World War I soldier, give readers the full horror of radium poisoning. These girls – some as young as 13 – were led to believe that the radium paint was safe, even beneficial – one floor manager brags about mixing some into his pudding for health reasons; girls paint their nails, their faces, even paint jewelry on their bodies before they go out on dates. Hindsight, for the reader, is 20/20; I wanted to shriek at them as Lydia described each detail.

That said, there are some moments I felt could have been stronger. I didn’t love the romance that felt pushed into the narrative to make it more attractive to teen readers, and the subplot tension between Julie and her mother feels like it’s there just to make readers understand why Julie would be shopping in thrift stores. The driving story here is Lydia and Liza’s story, though; that’s what will stay with you long after the story has ended and you’ve closed the book. An author’s note at the end talks about the Radium Girls and the indignities they suffered when they became ill and tried to come forward.

This one is going on the shelves at my library, and I’ve already told my son’s girlfriend that she has to read it the second it hits shelves. Glow has a powerful, heartbreaking story at its core that you should not miss.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Victoria Jamieson’s Back! All’s Faire in Middle School

All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson, (Sept. 2017, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0525429999

Recommended for ages 9-13

Newbery Honor winner Victoria Jamieson’s newest graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, introduces readers to Imogene (Impy), an 11 year-old who’s about to start middle school after being homeschooled. She’s also a knight-in-training at the Renaissance Faire that her parents and extended family – the other RenFest players – run. She’s got a different lifestyle, but never really thought anything of it; it’s all she’s known. Once she gets to public school, though, she finds herself embarrassed by her family and RenFest friends, her thrift store clothing, and her small apartment. But will she be a noble knight and rise above her challenges?

Victoria Jamieson’s got a gift for telling middle grade stories about quirky heroines who buck tradition. Roller Girl introduced us to Astrid, a girl who found herself in the roller derby arena; with All’s Faire, she gives us Imogene, who finds herself in the RenFaire. She’s got a different upbringing, which she’s embraced up until now – she meets kids who think she’s weird because she’s different; for a moment, she falls prey to the self-doubt and fear of standing out that plagues tweens. She meets the Mean Girls, and she has to draw on her internal strength and the love of the RenFest family around her to be her authentic self. There’s great storytelling here, with memorable characters and fun moments at the Faire.

This will appeal to everyone who loves realistic fiction, and all the Raina Telgemeier fans who love authors who get them. A must-add to bookshelves everywhere. Check out an excerpt from All’s Faire in Middle School at Entertainment Weekly.

Posted in Adventure, History, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The League of American Traitors gives us a glimpse at darker American history

The League of American Traitors, by Matthew Landis, (Aug. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510707351

Recommended for readers 13+

Seventeen year-old Jasper is an orphan, losing both parents in under a year. His father was never much of a father to him, so when a lawyer approaches Jasper at his father’s gravesite, he ignores his offer of help: there’s no money involved, and that’s what he needs, now that he’s on his own. But when he’s attacked by unknown assailants, he learns that he’s the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold: possibly the most infamous traitor in American History. Like an American Revolution-era Percy Jackson, Jasper discovers that descendants of history’s traitors belong to a group called The League of American Traitors, and that the True Sons of Liberty – a militant Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution – holds a heck of a grudge. Every time a traitor’s ancestor turns 18, they’re challenged to a duel by one of the Libertines, as the League calls them. The League kids go to a special school that teaches them the survival skills they’ll need in a duel, but Jasper’s case is special. His father was researching his ancestor, and he was onto something. Something that the Libertines will do anything to keep secret. Cyrus, his father’s lawyer and member of the League, urges Jasper to continue his father’s research; it will give all of the League families a new lease on life. Jasper has new friends that stand ready to help, but the Libertines have spies everywhere.

The League of American Traitors is a fun thrill ride through American history. A little bit Percy Jackson, mixed with some National Treasure and a dash of Hamilton, teens will enjoy this look at America, where our heroes’ hands may be a little dirtier than we imagined. The author knows how to keep a book moving, and once introductions are made, supporting characters come with their own rich backstories. This one’s a fun add to fiction collections, especially for fans of realistic intrigue and adventure with a twist.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Review and Giveaway: The Adventures of Henry Whiskers

Animal adventure books are guaranteed fun for readers, and mice are a consistently popular choice. Look at some of the most beloved, enduring children’s books: Stuart Little, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Rescuers, The Tale of Desperaux, and Babymouse, who’s growing up with her readers, having started with an elementary school character whose moved to middle school. There’s even a picture book that introduces younger readers to a young Babymouse. Mice are cute, tiny enough to get into places we can’t even fathom, for exciting adventures – and yet, small enough to be defenseless in a dangerous world. Kids can identify.

That said, we’ve got a giveaway for two books in a fun new series: The Adventures of Henry Whiskers! One lucky winner will receive copies of both Henry Whiskers books by Gigi Priebe–book 1, THE ADVENTURES OF HENRY WHISKERS, and book 2, THE LONG WAY HOME. (U.S. addresses). Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway today – ends September 7th! (Edit: The link was showing the contest had expired, so I’ve extended the deadline to September 7th and updated the link.

 

The Adventures of Henry Whiskers, by Gigi Priebe/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Jan. 2017,  Simon & Schuster Kids), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4814-6574-8

Recommended for readers 7-10

Henry Whiskers is a fun intermediate series starring a family of mice living in the drawers at the base of Queen Mary’s Dollhouse in Windsor Castle: quite possibly, the most famous dollhouse in the world. When the tourists are gone for the day, the mouse families wander the castle; for 25 generations, the Whiskers family have been caretakers of the dollhouse, and Henry Whiskers, son of the last caretaker, takes his job very seriously. He may be young, but has a deep sense of duty to the Whiskers legacy, living up to his father’s reputation. Henry can often be found reading the miniature classics in the dollhouse library when he’s not helping his mother take care of his family. In this first story, Henry and his cousin, Jeremy, set out in search of Henry’s sister, Isabel, who goes missing when the dollhouse is sent for cleaning. They’ll face off against Titus, the castle cat, and meet the rats who live in Rat Alley and aren’t fond of the mice at all. Henry shows bravery, a strong sense of justice and equality, and not only saves the day, and works to foster understanding between his own community and the rats.

 

The Adventure of Henry Whiskers: The Long Way Home, by Gigi Priebe/Illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (Aug. 2017, Simon & Schuster Kids), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1481465779

Recommended for readers 7-10

Henry’s latest adventure takes him outside the castle walls and into the city of London itself! He discovers an old map in the library, but he and Jeremy are caught by the palace cook, who believes she’s doing a good deed by sending them far away from the castle, so they won’t find their way back. Yikes! Henry learns more about his father and meets new animals on his latest escapade, while Mother worries about her son at home.

The Henry Whiskers books are just right for more confident chapter book readers who have a sense of adventure. Henry is a good little role model that readers can identify with, overcoming obstacles while making sure to look out for others as he goes. Daniel Duncan’s black and white illustrations add to the enjoyment of the narrative, and a photo of Queen Mary’s Dollhouse gives kids an idea of how big the dollhouse (and drawers) really is.

 

Source: NicolTallis.com

 

Check out this video, which provides a peek into the dollhouse. Stunning, isn’t it?

 

Gigi Priebe is the mother of three, the founder of Stepping Stones, an award-winning children’s museum in Norwalk, Connecticut and the author of The Adventures of Henry Whiskers, the first in her middle grade series. When she is not writing–or rewriting–she is a philanthropic advisor and community volunteer in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband, a cat named Tigger, a dog named Clover, and probably some mice. To learn more and to download a free curriculum guide, visit gigipriebe.com.