Doll Bones by Holly Black

15944406Light horror and lessons about growing up.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:  256 (for ISBN 9781416963981)

Genre(s) and keywords: horror, award winner

Tone/Style: eerie

Pace: moderate

Topics: ghosts, dolls, journeys

Themes: growing up, embarrassment, friendship, change

Summary: Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her. Continue reading

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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Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

ghostAn up-and-coming rockstar of a writer takes on a younger audience in this quick, charming book about the healing power of a track team.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages:   192 (for ISBN 9781481450157)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic, sports, diverse, African-American protagonist, award winner

Tone/Style: conversational, African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

Pace: fast

Topics: running track, shoes, stealing, traumatic past experiences, incarcerated parents

Themes: opening up about difficult life experiences, accountability, causes of misbehavior, hard work and determination, new friends

Summary: Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. (Source)

Who will like this book?: At 192 pages and with a sports theme, this should appeal to many reluctant readers. The book also has a fabulously diverse cast that offers representation to readers who may not see enough of themselves in literature. Castle (aka “Ghost”) is an honest and relatably flawed narrator. Ghost weighty enough that teachers should like it, too, making it a great choice for book reports.

Who won’t like this book?: It’s more of a character development book (though an unusually fast-moving one) than a plot-based book, and certain types of readers may reach the end and feel that not much happened in it.

Other comments: I read this as a physical book, but my coworkers tell me the audiobook is excellent. It won an Odyssey Honor this year. Ghost is also a National Book Award Finalist. It looks like this will be the first of several books about different members of the track team.

Sequel(s): Patina (expected August 2017); two more titles forthcoming (presumably called Lu and Sunny).

Readalikes: Jason Reynolds exploded onto the scene a few years ago and hasn’t stopped since. His  When I Was the Greatest and The Boy in the Black Suit are a good choices about urban black boys for slightly more mature audience (recommended for grades 7 and up). Ghetto Cowboy and Chess Rumble by G. Neri and Riding Chance by Christine Kendall are also books about black boys who find outlets in new hobbies. Readers interested in track can also try the ever-popular The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28954126-ghost

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2016)

girlLiterary fantasy and winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  388 (for ISBN 9781616205676)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, fairy tale, award winner

Tone/Style: lyrical, mysterious, melancholy

Pace: leisurely

Topics: witches, magic, lost family, amnesia, hidden potential

Themes: family, sacrifice, sorrow, loyalty, loss

Summary: An epic fantasy about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her.

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. Continue reading

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (2015)

most-dangerousThis tense story of a lesser-known figure from the Vietnam War era is a timely look at whistleblowing and patriotism.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages:   384 (for ISBN 9781596439528)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, history, thriller, award winner

Tone/Style: informational

Pace: moderate

Topics: the Vietnam War, government secrets, peace movements, the news media, Watergate, information leaks

Themes: privacy, dissent, loyalty

Summary: From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose the government’s deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children’s nonfiction. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Most Dangerous reads a bit like a cerebral spy thriller.  Those interested in secrets and conspiracies will gobble this up. Deep thinkers will be spurred to ask themselves questions about morality and patriotism for which there are no easy answers. As with all Sheinkin’s work, this will appeal to a wide swath of readers and will likely sway some fiction-only readers to give nonfiction a try.

Who won’t like this book?: This is a bit more rooted in politics and less rooted in action than some of Sheinkin’s other works. The moral questions posed may be over some readers’ heads.

Other comments: This is an incredibly timely peek into the past. If I didn’t believe before that history repeats itself, I certainly do now. Sheinkin includes a fascinating section at the end tying Ellsberg’s story to the story of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. This is a 2015 National Book Award Finalist and the winner of the 2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: In The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, Sheinkin offers a close look at another morally murky figure from American history.  Though the Vietnam War isn’t a popular topic in young adult lit, there are lots of nonfiction books involving resistance and espionage from the WWII era, including The Boys Who Challenge Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose and The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.

-Kylie Peters

Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23310694

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

The_wednesday_warsThis beloved tragicomedy is like hiding veggies in a smoothie: they won’t even notice it’s historical fiction!

Recommended grade level: 5-9

Pages: 264 (for ISBN 9780618724833)

Genre(s) and keywords: historical fiction, humor, award winners

Tone/Style: personal, embarrassed

Pace: moderate

Topics: school, theatre, baseball, the Vietnam War, Shakespeare

Themes: parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, teacher relationships, war, disappointment, parental approval, self-discovery

Summary: Holling Hoodhood is really in for it.

He’s just started seventh grade with Mrs. Baker, a teacher he knows is out to get him. Why else would she make him read Shakespeare…outside of class? Continue reading

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (2015)

51WLo5tAs3L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This National Book Award finalist about a girl coping with grief is a thematically challenging read, but full of insight.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 352 (for ISBN 9780316380867)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, award winner

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