The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)

13376This chilling recent classic gives the contemplative reader a lot to think about.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:  380 (for ISBN 9780689852237)

Genre(s) and keywords: science fiction, dystopian, award winner, diverse

Tone/Style: bleak, atmospheric

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: clones, drugs, undocumented immigrants

Themes: purpose in life, family, science, power, ethics

Summary: Between the U.S.A. and Aztlán (once called Mexico) lies a strip of land, known as Opium, the name of its chief product.  It is ruled by a 146-year-old drug lord known as El Patrón.  His fields are tilled by illegal immigrants, called “eejits,” who have computer chips implanted in their brains so that they can be kept in slavery.  Matt, a boy who is confined in a cottage on El Patrón estate, manages to break out, only to find himself treated like an animal.  Eventually he learns why.  The tattoo on his foot, “Property of Alacrán Estates,” means that he is a clone of El Patrón–and that he is being raised to provide spare body parts for his original.  With the aid of Tam Lin, his bodyguard, Matt escapes from Opium but that is not the end of his troubles.  He is imprisoned in a brutal labor camp for orphaned boys in Aztlán and leads a rebellion to rescue not only himself, but the other “Lost Boys.” (Source)

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The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (2013)

rithChalk monsters, drawings that come alive, and a protagonist who failed to be “chosen” make this a unique foray into steampunk fantasy.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:  378 (for ISBN 9780765320322)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy

Tone/Style: steampunk, mysterious

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: monsters, magic, magic schools, alternate reality

Themes: missed opportunities, dreams, talent, disappointment

Summary: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

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The Reader by Traci Chee (2016)

Beautiful language and a complex story woven of many threads mark this book designed for book lovers.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages:   442 (for ISBN 9780399176777)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, diverse

Tone/Style: lyrical

Pace: leisurely

Topics: books, pirates, past trauma, fugitives, magic

Themes: reading, friendship

Summary: A stunning debut set in a world where reading is unheard-of, perfect for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone.

Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

 

With overlapping stories of swashbuckling pirates and merciless assassins, The Reader is a brilliantly told adventure from an extraordinary new talent. (Source)

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Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz (2016)

Another winner from Alan Gratz: action, intrigue, and real live history.

Recommended grade level: 5-8

Pages:   320 (for ISBN 9780545880169)

Genre(s) and keywords: historical fiction, action/thriller, international (Germany)

Tone/Style: tense

Pace: fast

Topics: World War II, spies, Irish people, phobias

Themes: deception, sacrifice, reasons for evil, Do the ends justify the means?

Summary: World War II is raging. Michael O’Shaunessey, the son of the Irish ambassador to Nazi Germany, lives in war-torn Berlin with his parents. Like the other boys at his school, Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth. But Michael has a secret:

He and his parents are spies.

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer (2016)

heartlessA dark, imaginative, and romantic Alice in Wonderland prequel.

Recommended grade level: 7 and up

Pages:   453 (for ISBN 9781250044655)

Genre(s) and keywords: romance, fantasy, retellings

Tone/Style: dark, romantic

Pace: leisurely to moderate

Topics: Alice in Wonderland, magic, baking, royalty, nobility, unwanted marriages, Victorian, illicit romance, fairy tales (Alice in Wonderland isn’t quite a fairy tale, but it appeals to the same crowd so I’m sticking the tag in here.)

Themes: romantic love, societal roles, duty, falls from grace

Summary: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2017)

every falling starThis tense, heartbreaking true story about a boy’s struggle to survive on the streets of North Korea offers a rare glimpse into a country shrouded in mystery.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   336 (for ISBN 9781419721328)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, survival, diverse, dystopian, current events, Kylie’s favorites

Tone/Style: grim, determined

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: North Korea, gangs, orphans, poverty

Themes: loyalty, trust, injustice, family, friendship

Summary: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.  (Source)

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ALA Annual 2017 (AKA OMG I MET CARLA HAYDEN)

SEE.

Dr. Hayden was amazing: warm and enthusiastic. I felt like we were friends the moment we spoke. I told her I was a young adult librarian in the Chicago area, which is something she also was at the beginning of her career. She pointed to me (see photo) and said “She’s a young adult librarian!” to her staff members like I’d just told her I was a rock star.

I got to tell a bunch of publishers to publish more books aimed at middle school readers, met a few authors, tried some new maker technology, went to some useful sessions, and did a whole bunch of networking. I always come back from conferences feeling energized and inspired. There’s just something about being in a big building full of people with funky hair and cardigans who love books and information as much as I do. By the way, if you’re in the library field and need a boost of confidence, watch Hillary Clinton’s inspiring speech from the closing session about the importance of libraries here.

If you haven’t had the chance to attend a conference, do your best to make it to one. ALA can be hard to get to, but state conferences are great too (or at least, the Illinois Library Association one is; I haven’t been to any others). The ideas and rush of motivation make them worth the cost and time away from work.