Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

How many words will stay on The List?

The List, by Patricia Forde, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492647966

Recommended for readers 10-13

A post-cataclysmic society called Ark is led by a fanatic who believes words are at the heart of the problem. After all, words can stretch the truth, can bend, can lie, just like the politicians did before The Great Melting. Letta is apprenticed to Ark’s wordsmith, Benjamin; the community is allowed only 500 words, which Benjamin and Letta curate. Benjamin saves words for a time when man will be able to handle more – or so Letta believes. When Benjamin disappears on a word-finding mission, and Letta meets a boy from a neighboring community of free-thinkers and artists, she discovers that their leader, the leader she put her trust in, is working on a way to rob the people of Ark of language forever.

The List is similar on many levels to The Giver: an enclosed, guarded society, quiet removals of dissidents, and hidden truths waiting to be revealed. As an apprentice wordsmith, Letta sees more than the average Ark citizen; saving the life of a Desecrator – a member of a neighboring group of artists and musicians – opens her eyes to even more goings-on within Ark and its surroundings. It’s up to her to act on the information she receives, and she struggles with the burden of responsibility. There are strong themes for discussion here: the power of words, free thought and speech, and art as resistance. This is a great book to give readers who are ready for something beyond The Giver, but not yet ready for Fahrenheit 451. This novel can easily stand on its own, but readers may want to see what lies in Ark’s future.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

ChitChat Makes Phonics and Language Made Interesting for Middle Graders

chitchatChitChat: Celebrating the World’s Languages, by Jude Isabella/Illustrated by Kathy Boake. Kids Can Press (2013), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554537877

Recommended for ages 9-12

ChitChat takes a look at language – spoken, written, and sign;  how it’s evolved, and how it continues to evolve over time. Author Jude Isabella talks about everything from phonics sentence structures to the Rosetta Stone, slang, dead and endangered languages to how babies and toddlers can learn up to one new word every 90 seconds – all in 44 pages. It’s an incredible amount of information packed into a relative handful of pages, and yet nothing feels forced, rushed, cut off, or – and this is the most important part – boring.

Kathy Boakes’ illustrations are fun and interesting; she creates fun graphics using distorted faces from a wealth of ethnicities and giant mouths that call attention to interesting facts. There are fun callout boxes and graphics, including an interesting look at endangered languages of the world set against a map of the world. I was particularly happy to see a section devoted to diagramming a sentence – I haven’t seen one of those in far too long!

ChitChat is a good book to have in school and home libraries. Middle graders will get a kick out of the bite-sized facts and information, and pick up some Victorian slang while they’re at it (“fizzing fart catcher” is really a term I’d like to see someone bring back).