Monthly Archives: February 2018

Maya Lin by Susan Goldman Rubin

Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin. November 7, 2017. Chronicle Books, 100 p. ISBN: 9781452108377.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Lexile: 980.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is one of the most famous pieces of civic architecture in the world. But most people are not as familiar with the reserved college student who entered and won the design competition to build it. This accessible biography tells the story of Maya Lin, from her struggle to stick with her vision of the memorial to the wide variety of works she has created since then. The carefully researched text, paired with ample photos, crosses multiple interests—American history, civic activism, art history, and cultural diversity—and offers a timely celebration of the memorial’s 35th anniversary as well as providing an important contribution to the current discussion of the role of women and minorities in society.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Though she leads, of course, with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—submitted to a design competition when Maya Lin was still just a senior at Yale—Rubin’s thorough examination of this modern architect extends far past the memorial for which she is best known. After briefly discussing Lin’s childhood—an animal-lover, she grew up in Ohio to academic parents who had both been born in China—Rubin focuses on Lin’s thought process behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the challenges she faced entering into the architecture world as a young Asian woman. From there, she discusses Lin’s refusal to be typecast as a monument designer, and the exception she made for the Civil Rights Memorial. Projects less likely to be well known by students—Wave Field, Langston Hughes Library, Riggio-Lynch Chapel, the Confluence Project—are given equal page time. Lin’s exploration of her Chinese heritage is examined through her design of the Museum of Chinese in America, images of the Box House showcase her playful side, and her love of animals and conservation is still evident in her ongoing What Is Missing? multimedia project. Compact trim size, color-coded chapters, and frequent glossy photos make this a solid, well-researched, and well-rounded biography of a fascinating woman. A finely designed, endlessly compelling examination of the life and work of one of America’s most notable architects.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
One of the world’s most celebrated creators of civic architecture is profiled in this accessible, engaging biography. Similar in style and format to her Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (2014) and Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe (2011), Rubin’s well-researched profile examines the career, creative processes, and career milestones of Maya Lin. Rubin discusses at length Lin’s most famous achievement, designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chinese-American Lin was a reserved college student who entered and won the competition to design and build the memorial. Her youth and ethnicity were subjects of great controversy, and Rubin discusses how Lin fought to ensure her vision of the memorial remained intact. Other notable works by Lin, including the Civil Rights Memorial for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, a library and chapel for the Children’s Defense Fund, the Museum of Chinese in America, and the outdoor Wave Field project are examined but not in as much depth as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Attractively designed, the book is illustrated extensively with color photos and drawings. An engaging, admiring, and insightful portrait of an uncompromising, civic-minded, visionary artist. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Biography. 12-15)

About the Author

Susan Goldman Rubin has written art books for children of all ages, including middle grade biographies of Georgia O’Keeffe and the Wyeths. She lives in Malibu, California.

Her website is www.susangoldmanrubin.com

Teacher Resources

Maya Lin Lesson Plans

Maya Lin Studio

Around the Web

Maya Lin on Amazon

Maya Lin on Goodreads

Maya Lin Publisher Page

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Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas. October 10, 2017. Roaring Brook Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9781626724181.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.2; Lexile: 580.

A life on the prairie is not all it’s cracked up to be in this middle-grade novel where one girl’s mom takes her love of the Little House series just a bit too far.
Charlotte’s mom has just moved the family across the country to live in Walnut Grove, “childhood home of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Mom’s idea is that the spirit of Laura Ingalls will help her write a bestselling book. But Charlotte knows better: Walnut Grove is just another town where Mom can avoid responsibility. And this place is worse than everywhere else the family has lived—it’s freezing in the winter, it’s small with nothing to do, and the people talk about Laura Ingalls all the time. Charlotte’s convinced her family will not be able to make a life on the prairie—until the spirit of Laura Ingalls starts getting to her, too.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mention of bullying

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 4-7. Charlotte Lake, 12; her twin brother, Freddy; and her 11-year-old (and annoyingly optimistic) half-sister Rose know all about living on a shoestring. Their mother, a fledgling writer, feels called by the spirit of Laura Ingalls to move the family to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, so she can write a novel set on the prairie. To Charlotte, this move is one in a long series of moves, and she is tired of always being the new kid. Usually, Freddy is in solidarity with her, but this time, to her dismay, Freddy actually makes friends. Over time, Charlotte lets down her guard and warms up to her classmates until she is accused of vandalism and feels all alone again. Charlotte is the first-person narrator, with a lively wit, and most of the time, her narration is funny and on point. The other characters hold their own in the story, and the narrative itself is solid and appealing as Charlotte’s narrow life expands to become more inclusive, and she makes herself at home.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
A girl’s irresponsible mother plans to channel the spirit of Laura Ingalls Wilder into a bestselling novel. Charlotte, age 12, has heard this sort of thing before. Along with Freddy, her hearing-impaired twin, and Rose, her perennially sunny 11-year-old half sister, she’s gotten used to Mom’s perpetual search for greener pastures. Only they’ve always lived in warmer places, and Mom’s always had a job—now they’re in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the prairie icon’s former hometown, and Mom’s counting on their meager savings lasting until she can finish her book. (Charlotte and family are white; their landlords, who are important characters, are Latinx, and many of Charlotte’s classmates are Hmong.) Charlotte knows how to survive: be average. But here, for the first time, her twin becomes popular in his own right. Her teacher refuses to accept mediocrity, and she’s even drawn into volunteering at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. Unaccountably, it’s her mother who seems to be struggling—ready to give up and move them again just when Charlotte has finally found a sense of home. Then the museum is vandalized, Charlotte is blamed—and the resulting fallout teaches her to recognize the truth about herself, her family, and her friends. Tougas maintains Charlotte’s first-person point of view in a way that allows readers, like Charlotte herself, to gradually realize where Charlotte’s perceptions have been inaccurate or unfair. Strong characters and fast plotting propel readers to a sweet, realistic end that provides hope and a sense of stability—at least for the present time. Lovely. (Fiction. 8-12)

About the Author

Shelley Tougas is an award-winning writer of nonfiction for children, including Little Rock Girl 1957, and the author of the novels The Graham Cracker PlotFinders Keepers, and A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids. She lives in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Her website is shelleytougas.wordpress.com

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Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life on Amazon

Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life on Goodreads

Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life Publisher Page

Polaris by Michael Northrop

Polaris by Michael Northrop. October 31, 2017. Scholastic Press, 288 p. ISBN: 9780545297165.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 780.

Alone at sea, with only the stars to guide them…

The proud sailing ship Polaris is on a mission to explore new lands, and its crew is eager to bring their discoveries back home. But when half the landing party fails to return from the Amazon jungle, the tensions lead to a bloody mutiny. The remaining adults abandon ship, leaving behind a cabin boy, a botanist’s assistant, and a handful of deckhands — none of them older than twelve. Troubled by whispers of a strange tropical illness and rumors of a wild beast lurking onshore, the young sailors are desperate to steer the vessel to safety. When one of their own already missing and a strange smell drifting up from belowdecks, the novice crew begins to suspect that someone — or something — else is onboard. Having steeled themselves for the treacherous journey home, they now have more to fear than the raging waters of the Atlantic…

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Violence, Bullying, Description of a mutation

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-7. As the ship Polaris sails on a scientific voyage to Brazil in 1831, young crew members no older than 12 are left to fend for themselves after half the crew mutinies, then abandons the ship. In this suspenseful blend of historical and science fiction, only a cabin boy, a botanist’s assistant, and four deckhands are left. Half the crew was lost in the Amazonian jungle, one returned to the ship deathly ill, and another returned, only to disappear again. The young crew suspects something bad lurks below deck, but what they discover is truly horrific: a giant part-human insect covered in red scales that smells like fungus. Can they destroy it before it kills them? While withstanding treacherous storms, secrets, and injuries, they battle over whether to sail straight for the nearest land (full of pirates and slavers) or back to the U.S. This fast-moving adventure-survival novel with a science-fiction focus (an author’s note says the creature is based on a real species) will appeal to reluctant readers who like thrills and chills.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
An 1830s American scientific voyage to the Amazon goes terribly wrong.Only half of the men who went ashore for provisions before the book’s outset return to the ship, the Polaris, anchored off the coast of Brazil. Afterward some remaining sailors seek to eliminate a sick crew member, and the resulting argument leads to violent mutiny. The successful mutineers, strangely, abandon ship while also attempting to blow it up—leaving behind a handful of the youngest, lowest-ranked, mostly white kids, who save it, overcoming class and racial distinctions to work together. Cabin boy Owen, captain’s nephew, takes charge. Botanist’s assistant Henry’s highly intelligent but knows nothing about sailing. Thacher’s rumored to be from a fine Boston family whose reversal of fortune has led to his being sold into servitude; powder monkey Aaron’s said to be half Pequot (the other half unspoken but presumably white). Manny and Mario, the olive-skinned “Spanish brothers,” are good sailors with a secret. The kids must keep the ship from sinking before they can reach land and safety. There’s also something lurking belowdecks—strange noises and a disturbing, sweet smell lead them to speculate about a haunting. What’s actually there is much worse than a ghost. The salty sailing details and the drama of keeping afloat in the face of damaging storms and winds is just as heart-pounding as the struggle for survival against the threat already onboard. An exciting blend of nautical adventure and monstrous horror. (Historical horror. 9-15)

About the Author

Michael Northrop is the New York Times bestselling author of Scholastic’s new multi-platform series, TombQuest. His first young adult novel, Gentlemen, earned him a Publishers Weekly Flying Start citation, and his second, Trapped, was an Indie Next List selection. His first middle-grade novel, Plunked, was named one of the best children’s books of the year by the New York Public Library and was selected for NPR’s Backseat Book Club. He is originally from Salisbury, Connecticut, a small town in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains, where he mastered the arts of BB gun shooting, tree climbing, and field goal kicking with only moderate injuries. After graduating from NYU, he worked at Sports Illustrated Kids magazine for 12 years, the last five of those as baseball editor.

Her website is michaelnorthrop.net.

Around the Web

Polaris on Amazon

Polaris on Goodreads

Polaris Publisher Page

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

Al the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry. October 10, 2017. Algonquin Young Readers, 288 p. ISBN: 9781616206666.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 750.

Sarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt work in the vast maguey fields that span the bone-dry Southwest, a thirsty, infinite land that is both seductive and fearsome. In this rough, transient landscape, Sarah Jac and James have fallen in love. They’re tough and brave, and they have big dreams. Soon they will save up enough money to go east. But until then, they keep their heads down, their muscles tensed, and above all, their love secret.

When a horrible accident forces Sarah Jac and James to start over on a new, possibly cursed ranch called the Real Marvelous, the delicate balance they’ve found begins to give way. And James and Sarah Jac will have to pay a frighteningly high price for their love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Lakes have dried up, the earth is dying, and Sarah Jac and James flee southwest, leaving behind a gritty Chicago to harvest maguey in the desert. Surrounded by other transient workers, they hoard their money, hiding their love and scamming other workers while they dream of a different future. After an accident forces them to flee, the two find themselves working at the Real Marvelous, a ranch that’s rumored to be cursed. The owner of the ranch has two daughters, and Sarah Jac, who knows her way around a horse, is asked to give the youngest, timid and angry Bell, riding lessons. At the same time, James catches the eye of the eldest, fierce and beautiful Farrah, ill with a mysterious, terminal disease. As Sarah Jac and James are inexorably drawn into this family and their secrets, strange and magical things begin to happen at the Real Marvelous—things no con in the world can overcome, things that even their love may not be able to withstand. In aching, luminous prose, Mabry (A Fierce and Subtle Poison, 2016) crafts a story impossible to forget, infused with southwestern folklore and magical realism. The harsh desert is exquisitely, painfully rendered, and the characters are flawed and wholly real. A gripping, fablelike story of a love ferocious enough to destroy and a world prepared to burn with it.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
In a dangerous, post-apocalyptic America, Sarah Jac and her boyfriend, James, keep their relationship a secret as they work at a mysterious farm. After environmental collapse, the western half of North America is desert. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Jacqueline Crow, aka “Sarah Jac” (who’s mixed-race), and fellow orphan James Holt (who’s white) specialize in picking the maguey plant for violent overseers and profit-hungry ranch owners whose harvests turn into pulque, mescal, and tequila. After a fatal accident during a dust storm, Sarah Jac is accused of murder, and the two stow away on a train that leads them to the Real Marvelous, a ranch in Texas that’s rumored to be cursed. To protect themselves, Sarah Jac and James pretend to be cousins, fearing that if they’re open about their love, they’ll expose themselves to blackmail or worse. Soon, Sarah Jac is commanded to provide equestrian lessons to the owner’s younger daughter, Bell, while James is commissioned to work in the big house as a groundskeeper—and ends up catching the eye of Bell’s sickly but beautiful older sister, Farrah. A complicated series of plagues, prophecies, and love triangles ensues. The author’s prose is rich and lyrical, but the worldbuilding is lacking, leaving readers wondering about details rather than immersed in the story. In a reverse of most romantic story arcs, the love story goes from initially swoonworthy to deeply unsatisfying. Mabry’s mix of magical realism and dystopia doesn’t live up to its promising start. (Science fiction. 14-17)

About the Author

Samantha was born four days before the death of John Lennon. she grew up in Dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

She spends as much time as possible in the West Texas desert. Her website is samanthamabry.com

Around the Web

All the Wind in the World on Amazon

All the Wind in the World on Goodreads

All the Wind in the World Publisher Page

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada. November 7, 2017. Simon Pulse, 425 p. ISBN: 9781481496339.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself?

Part of Series: This Mortal Coil (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, War, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Smoking, Gore

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. Postapocalyptic thrillers are everywhere, and mostly derivative. Suvada’s debut, however, adds an intriguing element: a genius girl hacker. Catarina Agatta has been surviving on her own since her geneticist father, Lachlan, was kidnapped two years ago by Cartaxus, an organization with questionable motives and actions. Now a Cartaxus soldier named Cole shows up, telling her Lachlan is dead and Catarina is the only one who can crack an encrypted code. This will release the vaccine for the terrible Hydra plague that has been decimating what’s left of the world population. Initially reluctant to cooperate with Cartaxus, Catarina must quickly find out what’s really going on, and in the process of digging through Cole’s past and identity to determine his trustworthiness, she discovers shocking truths about her own identity. Tech geeks will relish the myriad details of AI, romance readers will enjoy the predictable progression of Cole and Catarina’s relationship, and action and gore fans will delight in the blood and guts throughout.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
In Suvada’s high-tech debut, a virus has ravaged the world and one teen holds the key to the cure.In a world where everyone is embedded with technology at birth that allows them to manipulate their DNA, Catarina Agatta’s dad, Lachlan, is the best gentech coder in the world. Naturally, she has inherited his skills to become a master hacker. At the outbreak of a horrifying virus that causes its victims to combust and those nearby to cannibalize them before they do, Cartaxus, a corrupt organization, forcibly whisks Lachlan away to develop a cure. For two years, Catarina survives on her own, carefully avoiding Cartaxus’ grasp. One day, a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, shows up on her doorstep with the news that her father has died but that he managed to develop a vaccine. The only catch? Cole and Catarina must work together to find, decrypt, and release it to the masses. On their dangerous adventure to save the world, Cat is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her father, Cartaxus, the virus, and even herself. Featuring a strong, tech-savvy protagonist who will stop at nothing to get the job done, the novel explores exciting yet terrifying possibilities. (Race identity in this DNA–fluid future goes mostly undefined, but her surname implies Greek heritage.) While the twists and turns keep readers on their toes, one particular curveball comes so far out of left field it threatens to derail the story. An original concept but with an ending that requires a suspension of disbelief. (Science fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Emily Suvada was born and raised in Australia, where she went on to study mathematics and astrophysics. She previously worked as a data scientist, and still spends hours writing algorithms to perform tasks which would only take minutes to complete on her own. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen.

She currently lives in Portland, OR, with her husband. Her website is www.emilysuvada.com

Around the Web

This Mortal Coil on Amazon

This Mortal Coil on Goodreads

This Mortal Coil Publisher Page

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani. October 3, 2017. First Second, 176 p. ISBN: 9781626720886.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 2.9.

Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions―the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Racial taunts

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 6-10. Priyanka is deeply curious about her mother’s past in India, but she won’t tell her daughter anything, not even Pri’s father’s name. Meanwhile, Pri finds a beautifully embroidered pashmina hidden in a closet, and when she puts it on, she’s transported to a fantastical version of India, full of colorful scenes, magical creatures, and delicious food, which only amplifies her desire to visit the country. A family crisis causes her mother to reconsider her stance, and soon Pri embarks on the journey she’s been dreaming about. Yet when she arrives in India, it’s nothing like the visions the pashmina has offered, but tracking down the garment’s origin helps illuminate both Pri’s relationship to India and her better grasp of her mother’s perspective. Chanani’s stylized cartoons shift from a palette of gray, black, and white when depicting Pri’s life in California to bold, vibrant color when the pashmina transports its wearer to a fantastical reality. Although some plot mechanics are a little murky, Chanani’s debut is a lively, engaging exploration of culture, heritage, and self-discovery.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
In this debut graphic novel, comics-loving teen Priyanka doesn’t know much about her mom’s old life in India–or about her dad (“that subject is permanently closed”). Then Pri finds a beautiful pashmina in an old suitcase. When she wears it, Pri has visions of a vibrant India, complete with talking animals and an ominous shadowy figure. When Pri travels to India herself, she solves the mystery of the shadowy figure and the pashmina’s origins (the goddess Shakti gave it the power to “allow women to see their choices”). Pri learns that even though the true India isn’t the enchanted land she envisioned, that doesn’t make it any less special: an aunt tells her, “Do not look at the dirt. Look at the people.” Pri also learns that she and her mother are crucially connected through their shared experiences with the pashmina. Chanani’s rounded figures give the illustrations accessibility, and colors are used to great emotional effect. Contemporary reality is shown in grayscale; the past in sepia hues; and Pri’s imagined India in rich colors that radiate off the pages. Priyanka is a realistically complex, sometimes moody character, with depth shown through her varied interests and inquisitive musings. Although the protagonist is in high school, younger readers (especially fans of Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, rev. 7/11) will have no trouble reading up. elisa gall

About the Author

Nidhi Chanani is an artist and author and the owner of Everyday Love Art. Her debut graphic novel, Pashmina, releases in October 2017. She recently illustrated Misty – The Proud Cloud, a children’s book by Hugh Howey.

Nidhi was born in Calcutta and raised in suburban southern California. She creates because it makes her happy – with the hope that it can make others happy, too. In April of 2012 she was honored by the Obama Administration as a Champion of Change.

Nidhi dreams and draws every day with her husband, daughter and their two cats in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her website is www.everydayloveart.com

Around the Web

Pashmina on Amazon

Pashmina on Goodreads

Pashmina Publisher Page

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. October 24, 2017. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781481438254.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Smoking, Gun violence

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Grades 7-12. Spanning a mere one minute and seven seconds, Reynolds’ new free-verse novel is an intense snapshot of the chain reaction caused by pulling a trigger. First, 15-year-old Will Holloman sets the scene by relating his brother Shawn’s murder two days prior—gunned down while buying soap for their mother. Next, he lays out The Rules: don’t cry, don’t snitch, always get revenge. Now that the reader is up to speed, Will tucks Shawn’s gun into his waistband and steps into an elevator, steeled to execute rule number three and shoot his brother’s killer. Yet, the simple seven-floor descent becomes a revelatory trip. At each floor, the doors open to admit someone killed by the same cycle of violence that Will’s about to enter. He’s properly freaked out, but as the seconds tick by and floors count down, each new occupant drops some knowledge and pushes Will to examine his plans for that gun. Reynolds’ concise verses echo like shots against the white space of the page, their impact resounding. He peels back the individual stories that led to this moment in the elevator and exposes a culture inured to violence because poverty, gang life, or injustice has left them with no other option. In this all-too-real portrait of survival, Reynolds goes toe-to-toe with where, or even if, love and choice are allowed to exist.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2017)
After 15-year-old Will sees his older brother, Shawn, gunned down on the streets, he sets out to do the expected: the rules dictate no crying, no snitching, and revenge. Though the African-American teen has never held one, Will leaves his apartment with his brother’s gun tucked in his waistband. As he travels down on the elevator, the door opens on certain floors, and Will is confronted with a different figure from his past, each a victim of gun violence, each important in his life. They also force Will to face the questions he has about his plan. As each “ghost” speaks, Will realizes how much of his own story has been unknown to him and how intricately woven they are. Told in free-verse poems, this is a raw, powerful, and emotional depiction of urban violence. The structure of the novel heightens the tension, as each stop of the elevator brings a new challenge until the narrative arrives at its taut, ambiguous ending. There is considerable symbolism, including the 15 bullets in the gun and the way the elevator rules parallel street rules. Reynolds masterfully weaves in textured glimpses of the supporting characters. Throughout, readers get a vivid picture of Will and the people in his life, all trying to cope with the circumstances of their environment while expressing the love, uncertainty, and hope that all humans share. This astonishing book will generate much needed discussion. (Verse fiction. 12-adult)

About the Author

After earning a BA in English from The University of Maryland, College Park, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where you can often find him walking the four blocks from the train to his apartment talking to himself. Well, not really talking to himself, but just repeating character names and plot lines he thought of on the train, over and over again, because he’s afraid he’ll forget it all before he gets home. His website is www.jasonwritesbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Long Way Down Reading Group Guide

Around the Web

Long Way Down on Amazon

Long Way Down on Goodreads

Long Way Down Publisher Page

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi. October 10, 2017. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316220835.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This third book in a major series by a bestselling science fiction author, Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist is the gripping story of the most provocative character from his acclaimed novels Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities.

Tool, a half-man/half-beast designed for combat, is capable of so much more than his creators had ever dreamed. He has gone rogue from his pack of bioengineered “augments” and emerged a victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by someone determined to destroy him, who knows an alarming secret: Tool has found the way to resist his genetically ingrained impulses of submission and loyalty toward his masters… The time is coming when Tool will embark on an all-out war against those who have enslaved him. From one of science fiction’s undisputed masters comes a riveting page-turner that pulls no punches.

Sequel to: The Drowned Cities

Part of Series: Ship Breaker (Book 3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, Violence, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Five years after The Drowned Cities (2012), Bacigalupi returns to his award-winning Ship Breaker series. This opens with a rare moment of peace in the Drowned Cities. Moments later, Havoc missiles rain down death on Tool and his young army, turning humans and city into ash. The Mercier Corporation and General Carora have finally located the DNA-enhanced Tool and are desperate to annihilate their renegade augment. The action is nonstop as Tool is marched through a series of brutal battles, meeting main characters from the earlier books along the way. The number of plot conveniences and narrow escapes is almost as high as the body count as Tool seeks revenge on his corporate makers. The central issue of Tool’s humanity is burdened by plot contradictions that overwhelm character development, and the searing passion of the earlier books seems missing. Still, Bacigalupi’s action scenes are brilliantly cinematic, powering the pacing with breathtaking superhero stunts. Tool, as ever, is a character impossible to forget, and all loose ends are tied up in an epilogue.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Bacigalupi returns to probe his brutal, post-apocalyptic American landscape and darkly provocative characters in this third installment of the series begun in Ship Breaker (2010) and continued in The Drowned Cities (2012). Following the pattern of existential fracture found in its predecessors’ narratives, this latest novel further explores the consequences of war and corruption with a focus on the DNA–spliced “augment” called Tool. Tool (also called Blood, Blade, and Karta-Kul the Slaughter-Bringer) is a finely honed weapon, bred for massacre, survival, and loyalty. But after breaking free of his conditioned servitude, Tool represents a serious threat to his former masters, who attack with everything available in their considerable arsenal to destroy him lest they be forced to face the terrifying question of what happens when a weapon turns on its creators. For Tool was uniquely designed for more than just the tactical strategy and lethal bloodlust of most augments—he has a power that, now unleashed, could spell the end for a violently factionalized, inhumanly cruel humanity. Told in third person, the novel alternates among the perspectives of several new as well as familiar characters, none of whom shy away from the constant gore and near-paralyzing moral complexities of their war-torn existence. After playing fascinating, catalyzing roles the first two books, Tool is at center stage at last as readers move through Bacigalupi’s exploration of the intricate relationships connecting hunter and prey, master and enslaved, human and monster. Masterful. (Dystopian. 14-adult)

About the Author

Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of the highly acclaimed The Drowned Cities and Ship Breaker, a New York Times bestseller, Michael L. Printz Award winner, and National Book Award finalist. He is also the author of the Edgar Awards nominee The Doubt Factory; a novel for younger readers, Zombie Baseball Beatdown; and two bestselling adult novels for adults, The Water Knife and The Windup Girl. His first work of collected short fiction was Pump Six and Other Stories. The winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards, he lives in western Colorado with his wife and son.  His website is windupstories.com

Around the Web

Tool of War on Amazon

Tool of War on Goodreads

Tool of War Publisher Page

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix & Sean Williams. October 31, 2017. Scholastic Press, 274 p. ISBN: 9780545259026.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.9.

It is strange enough that Odo and Eleanor have stumbled upon a sword in a dried-up river outside their village. It is even stranger that Odo is able to remove it from where it’s buried. And it’s REMARKABLY strange when the sword starts to talk.

Odo and Eleanor have unearthed Biter, a famous fighter from earlier times. By finding Biter, Odo instantly becomes a knight – a role he is exquisitely unsuited for. Eleanor, however, would make a PERFECT knight – but she’s not the one with the sword.

Finding Biter is only the start – boy, girl, and sword must soon go on a quest to save their kingdom from threats in both human and dragon form, in this new fantasy triumph from Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 1))
Grades 3-5. Eleanor: bold, sharp, filled with dreams of adventure and knighthood. Odo: a little timid, a little unsure, not particularly fond of thinking about the future. But alas, when the two tweens stumble upon an enchanted sword, it’s Odo who cuts himself on it and is granted instant knighthood by the sword itself. The sword, whose name happens to be Biter, has no problem talking and fighting, although he does seem to be having a little trouble remembering his clearly illustrious past. At any rate, domineering Biter, reluctant knight Odo, and sullen squire Eleanor have a quest to complete if they want to save their kingdom—if they can figure out who they’re fighting. This first series installment is a true-blue errant-knight tale, complete with dragons, sassy enchanted objects, and a destiny that comes before anyone is ready. In this world, knighthood is given regardless of gender; it eludes Eleanor not because she’s a girl but because of bad timing. Hand to just about any middle-grader looking for a swashbuckling adventure.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Two best friends with opposing appetites for adventure are thrust into a crucial quest by a gregarious sword. The once-hearty Silverrun River through Lenburh is steadily running ever lower. As diminutive, feisty Eleanor and her best friend, brawny, bumbling Odo, fish for eels in the muddy trickle, they unearth a sword. After Odo pricks his finger and subsequently bleeds on the blade, the heretofore-slumbering sword wakes up, proclaiming its name (in Gothic type) to be Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short) and knighting Sir Odo. Eleanor, whose deceased mother was a knight, is at once thrilled by the enchanted sword and infuriated that she’s been designated squire. Assessing the river’s pathetic state, Biter pronounces their quest to unblock the river’s source. Eleanor is gung-ho, Odo is reluctant, Biter is persistent. The trio bid adieu to Lenburh’s bucolic boredom and head toward their fate—which could very well mean death by dragon. In this medievallike fantasy world, gender equality abounds. Like the bulk of medieval European art, however, this cast is white (with the liberal inclusion of female Sirs, it would seem that some black and brown characters could have been included, too). Written by a duo, the narrative is presented from both Eleanor’s and Odo’s perspectives, although this isn’t a he-said, she-said division by chapter; there is a more fluid back and forth. En garde for an implied sequel that is already too bloody far away. (Fantasy. 10-14)

About the Authors

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes’ or possibly ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.

Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books.  His website is www.garthnix.com.

#1 New York Times bestselling Sean Williams lives with his family in Adelaide, South Australia. He’s written some books–forty-two at last count–including the Philip K. Dick-nominated Saturn Returns, several Star Wars novels and the Troubletwister series with Garth Nix. Twinmaker is a YA SF series that takes his love affair with the matter transmitter to a whole new level. You can find some related short stories over at Lightspeed Magazine and elsewhere. Thanks for reading.

His website is www.twinmakerbooks.com/

Around the Web

Have Sword, Will Travel on Amazon

Have Sword, Will Travel on Goodreads

Have Sword, Will Travel on JLG

Have Sword, Will Travel Publisher Page

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. September 5, 2017. Scribner, 285 p. ISBN: 9781501126062.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 840.

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Strong sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Clinical description of slaughtering an animal

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (July 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 21))
Jojo, 13, and his 3-year-old sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, while their mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and her failures as a daughter, mother, and inheritor of a gift (or curse) that connects her to spirits. Leonie insists that Jojo and Kayla accompany her on a two-day journey to the infamous Parchman prison to retrieve their white father. Their harrowing experiences are bound up in unresolved and reverberating racial and family tensions and entanglements: long-buried memories of Pop’s time in Parchman, the imminent death of Mam from cancer, and the slow dawning of the children’s own spiritual gifts. Ward alternates perspectives to tell the story of a family in rural Mississippi struggling mightily to hold themselves together as they are assailed by ghosts reflecting all the ways humans create cruelty and suffering. In her first novel since the National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones (2011), Ward renders richly drawn characters, a strong sense of place, and a distinctive style that is at once down-to-earth and magical.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
Ward (Men We Reaped, 2013, etc.) follows her excellent, National Book Award–winning novel Salvage the Bones with her third book-length work of fiction, a searching study of all the ways in which people damage each other, sometimes without meaning to.Leonie, a young African-American woman, lives in the eternal childhood of addiction and dependency; her life revolves around trying to escape from herself, which is no help to her children, one a toddler named Kayla, the other a 13-year-old boy named Jojo. The three live with Leonie’s parents, the gruff but tender grandfather a font of country wisdom (“Goats is mean and pigs is smarter than you think. And they vicious too”), the grandmother steadily being eaten alive by an aggressive cancer. “Each time Leonie told me something mean, Mam would tell her to leave me alone,” a grateful Jojo recounts, devastated to see his mother hollowed by her illness. Clearly the older couple cannot take care of the children, but when Leonie’s white boyfriend is released from prison—Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm, no less—things go from bad to worse. It’s not necessarily that the drugged-out couple is evil, but that they can’t take care of themselves, much less anyone else, leaving the children to their own resources—and, as the story progresses, Ward makes clear that those resources are considerable, just as Leonie, who is haunted by the ghost of her dead brother, realizes that she has been dealt a hand that, while tragic, is simply part of the business of life: “Growing up out here in the country taught me things,” she thinks. “Taught me that after the first fat flush of life, time eats away at things: it rusts machinery, it matures animals to become hairless and featherless, and it withers plants.” Time doesn’t improve most people, either: it leads them into adulthood, makes them mean and violent and untrustworthy, all lessons the kids must learn the hard way. Though rough and cheerless, Ward’s book commemorates the resilience of children, who, as in the kindred film Beasts of the Southern Wild, are perforce wise beyond their years. Not as strong as its predecessor, but expertly written all the same, proving Ward’s position at the forefront of modern Southern letters.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

Teacher Resources

Sing, Unburied, Sing Reading Guide

Around the Web

Sing, Unburied, Sing on Amazon

Sing, Unburied, Sing on JLG

Sing, Unburied, Sing on Goodreads

Sing, Unburied, Sing Publisher Page