The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A true Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. October 1, 2017. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 320 p. ISBN: 9780374303235.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Racial slur, Graphic description of recovery from burns, Detailed description of a hate crime

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 7-12. Slater handles the sensitive subject matter of adolescence, hate crimes, the juvenile justice system, and the intersection of race and class with exemplary grace and emotional connection. Sasha, a genderqueer teen riding the 57 bus, was asleep when Richard Thomas, an African American teen, decided to play a prank by playing with a lighter by her skirt. But the skirt caught fire. Sasha spent grueling amounts of time in a hospital burn unit, and Richard spent the rest of his high-school career mired in a long trial and awaiting sentencing. In this true-crime tale, Slater excels at painting a humanistic view of both Sasha and Richard, especially in the aftermath of the crime. Readers will enjoy that Sasha’s life is completely developed, while other readers may have a few unresolved questions surrounding Richard’s upbringing. Ultimately, this book will give readers a better understanding of gender nonbinary people and a deep empathy for how one rash action can irrevocably change lives forever.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2017)
In the fall of 2013, on a bus ride home, a young man sets another student on fire.In a small private high school, Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, enjoyed “a tight circle of friends,” “blazed through calculus, linguistics, physics, and computer programming,” and invented languages. Sasha didn’t fall into a neat gender category and considered “the place in-between…a real place.” Encouraged by parents who supported self-expression, Sasha began to use the pronoun they. They wore a skirt for the first time during their school’s annual cross-dressing day and began to identify as genderqueer. On the other side of Oakland, California, Richard, a black teen, was “always goofing around” at a high school where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Within a few short years, his closest friends would be pregnant, in jail, or shot dead, but Richard tried to stay out of real trouble. One fateful day, Sasha was asleep in a “gauzy white skirt” on the 57 bus when a rowdy friend handed Richard a lighter. With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness. (Nonfiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Dashka Slater has written many books, including Baby ShoesThe Sea Serpent and Me, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Escargot, and Dangerously Ever After. She is also an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in NewsweekSalon, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones. 

She lives in California. Her website is www.dashkaslater.com

Teacher Resources

The 57 Bus Discussion Guide

Around the Web

The 57 Bus on Amazon

The 57 Bus on Goodreads

The 57 Bus on JLG

The 57 Bus Publisher Page

Advertisements

Ranger Games by Ben Blum

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family, and an Inexplicable Crime by Ben Blum. September 12, 2017. Doubleday Books, 432 p. ISBN: 9780385538435.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Intricate, heartrending, and morally urgent, Ranger Games is a crime story like no other

Alex Blum was a good kid with one unshakeable goal in life: Become a U.S. Army Ranger. On the day of his leave before deployment to Iraq, Alex got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.

The question that haunted the entire Blum family was: Why?Why would he ruin his life in such a spectacularly foolish way?

At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger program. His attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult.

In the midst of his own personal crisis, and in the hopes of helping both Alex and his splintering family cope, Ben Blum, Alex’s first cousin, delved into these mysteries, growing closer to Alex in the process. As he probed further, Ben began to question not only Alex, but the influence of his superior, Luke Elliot Sommer, the man who planned the robbery. A charismatic combat veteran, Sommer’s manipulative tendencies combined with a magnetic personality lured Ben into a relationship that put his loyalties to the test.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence, Drugs, Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
This debut work is a stunningly well-executed examination of one man’s abrupt fall into disgrace and another man’s fascination with that fall. The men (one, a gung-ho U.S. Army Ranger on his way to Iraq in 2006; the other, the author of this book) grew up together as cousins in Colorado. The defining moment for author Blum’s cousin Alex, and for this wrenching book, was Alex’s sudden and seemingly inexplicable involvement in a bank robbery on the verge of his being shipped to Iraq, a moment that blew up his life and those of his relatives. Blum spent seven years puzzling out this act, interviewing Alex, family members, and friends. He also investigates the Ranger culture that instills blind obedience, and the evil influence that one special-operations commander held over Alex. The result is a well-researched, spellbinding work of narrative nonfiction that opens up the psychology of Ranger training, as well as giving the reader a compassionate view of the interlocking forces that can feed into one spectacularly bad decision.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
A vigorous, empathetic chronicle of a crime foretold—or at least engendered, possibly, on a boot camp drill field.Though the mostly peace-minded citizens of Tacoma, Washington, may not know it, the military-industrial complex looms large there, with a joint Air Force and Army base constituting the area’s largest employer by far. Blum tells the story of a group of four soldiers, including the author’s cousin, Alex, who donned blue jeans and ski masks and tried to boost a bank. The news of the subsequent arrest shocked the respectable, intellectually competitive Blum family. “Alex was the most squeaky-clean, patriotic, rule-respecting kid we knew,” writes the author, who digs into the case to tease out why an Army Ranger, part of a unit already under the spotlight for having tortured prisoners in Iraq, did something so transgressive. Among the theories the legal defense tested, he finds the notion that the heist was the result of a kind of brainwashing to be somewhat compelling, while the thought that the robbery was a training exercise isn’t as absurd as it might appear on the face: “As far as Alex was concerned,” one of his fellow soldiers says, “it wasn’t real.” In time, Blum looks closely at a charismatic leader who cooked up the scheme as an exercise in sociopathy and convinced his comrades to take part because it was cool and fun. “With him,” writes the author, memorably, “you could become Donkey Kong or Cobra Commander or Wile E. Coyote, swallowing a pound of TNT and exploding and reconstituting again in time to pant so hard at a passing pretty girl that your tongue spilled out onto the floor.” In the end, Blum writes, judge and jury did not accept any such Looney Tunes scenario, and how they arrived at their verdict affords the author some fine courtroom back and forth. A lighthearted romp à la Ocean’s Eleven it’s not, but Blum’s well-wrought account suggests that any crime is possible so long as it’s made out to be a game.

About the Author

Ben Blum was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of California Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and an MFA in fiction from New York University, where he was awarded the New York Times Foundation Fellowship.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and stepdaughter. His website is www.benblumauthor.com

Around the Web

Ranger Games on Amazon

Ranger Games on Goodreads

Ranger Games on JLG

Ranger Games Publisher Page

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi. October 31, 2017. Razorbill, 298 p. ISBN: 9780448493909.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, War, Violence, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Gore

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Online))
Grades 7-10. Taj is an aki, a sin-eater. After Mages pull the sins out of people, he and his fellow aki fight those sins and, if they win, consume them, leaving only the tell-tale tattoos on their skin, the signs that mark them as outcasts. But when the supposedly pure King has Taj eat one of his sins, Taj is caught in a battle between the all-powerful members of the royal family over the true role of the aki and their powers. Onyebuchi crafts a compelling tale for his first novel, seamlessly blending fantasy, religion, political intrigue, and a touch of steampunk into a twisting tale of magic. Taj, who narrates the tale in present tense, is a great stand-in for teen readers, equal parts afraid, determined, cocky, smart, and clueless. As he moves out of the slums he knows and into a world of wealth and power, readers will discover whom he can trust and what the other characters truly want right along with him. Hand this intriguing fantasy to fans of Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (2011).

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Taj, the black teenage narrator of Onyebuchi’s debut, is an aki, or sin-eater—meaning that he literally consumes the exorcised transgressions of others, usually in the forms of inky-colored animal-shaped phantasms called inisisas that reappear as black tattoos on the akis’ “red skin, brown skin.” This really isn’t his most remarkable trait, however, even as he ingests greater and greater sins of the Kaya, the brown-skinned royal family ruling the land of Kos. What makes Taj extraordinary is the tensions he holds: his blasé awareness of his exalted status as the best aki, even as the townspeople both shun yet exploit him and his chosen family of sin-eaters; his adolescent swagger coupled with the big-brotherly protectiveness he has for the crew of akis and, as the story proceeds, his increasing responsibility to train them; his natural skepticism of the theology that guides Kos even as he performs the very act that allows the theology—and Kos itself—to exist. He must navigate these in the midst of a political plot, a burgeoning star-crossed love, and forgiveness for the sins he does not commit. “Epic” is an overused term to describe how magnificent someone or something is. Author Onyebuchi’s novel creates his in the good old-fashioned way: the slow, loving construction of the mundane and the miraculous, building a world that is both completely new and instantly recognizable. This tale moves beyond the boom-bang, boring theology of so many fantasies—and, in the process, creates, almost griotlike, a paean to an emerging black legend. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tochi Onyebuchi is a writer based in Connecticut. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Beasts Made of Night is his debut.

 

 

Around the Web

Beasts Made of Night on Amazon

Beasts Made of Night on Goodreads

Beasts Made of Night on JLG

Beasts Made of Night Publisher Page

Justice Failed by Alton Logan

Justice Failed: How “Legal Ethics” Kept Me in Prison for 26 Years by Alton Logan. October 10, 2017. Counterpoint, 160 p. ISBN: 9781619029927.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Having no choice but to protect their own client—the true murderer—lawyers who could prove Alton Logan’s innocence kept silent for over two decades.

Justice Failed is the story of Alton Logan, an African-American man who served twenty-six years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Shamefully, such false imprisonment isn’t uncommon in America, but what makes this case extraordinary is that his innocence was made known to the attorneys of the true murderer within one month of Logan’s imprisonment.

Written in collaboration with veteran journalist Berl Falbaum,Justice Failed explores the sharp divide that exists between common sense morality—an innocent man should be free—and the rigid ethics of the law which superseded that morality. The actual murderer admitted his guilt to his lawyers, but they, bound by the absolutism of client-attorney privilege, did not take action to free an innocent man. According to ethic codes, they could not. Instead, they signed an affidavit proclaiming Alton Logan’s innocence, and in a move that belongs in a thriller, one of them locked the document in a strong box and kept it beneath his bed, in case they were someday able to assist Logan. It wasn’t until after the true murderer’s death in 2007 that the lawyers came forward with the information that eventually set Logan free.

Throughout, interviews and probing legal exploration give way to Alton Logan himself as he tells his own story; from his childhood in Chicago to the strength required to maintain his innocence while incarcerated, to the devastating impact that the loss of a quarter century has had on his life—he entered prison at 28 years of age, and was released at 55. His story is painful and infuriating, but Justice Failed is not meant to shock, nor is it a plea for pity. Logan and Falbaum lay out the facts, and answer the question “How could this happen?” Very easily, it seems. Through telling his story, Alton Logan and Berl Falbaum seek to change that.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs

 

About the Author

Alton Logan served 26 years of a life sentence in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was formally declared innocent on April 17, 2009. Alton currently lives with his wife, Terry, in Chicago.

 

Around the Web

Justice Failed on Amazon

Justice Failed on Goodreads

Justice Failed on JLG

Justice Failed Publisher Page

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict. January 16, 2018. Sourcebooks Landmark, 288 p. ISBN: 9781492646617.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the author of The Other Einstein comes the mesmerizing story of love, power, and the woman who inspired an American dynasty 

In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Immigrant farm-girl Clara Kelley clambers out of steerage and, by assuming the identity of a fellow passenger with the same name, hops onto the dock and straight into a position as lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the exacting mother of Andrew, captain of industry. By turns tirelessly ambitious, philanthropic, and deeply influenced by his bootstrap-climb from poverty, Andrew is the personification of the American dream. He values Clara’s intellect and seeming honesty, but their burgeoning relationship jeopardizes her position and ability to aid her family, desperately struggling back home in Ireland. Despite the Civil War setting, Benedict’s (The Other Einstein, 2016) novel has a Gilded Age feel. Info dumps occur, and sustained suspension of disbelief is required, yet the story is engaging. The chaste romance will draw readers of inspirational fiction, while the novel is constructed to appeal to those seeking a tale with an upstairs-downstairs dynamic and all-but-invisible female characters who are either the impetus for or the actual originators of great men’s great ideas. For Fans of Liz Trenow, Erika Robuck, and Nancy Horan.

Library Journal (September 1, 2017)
In 1863, Clara Kelley, a farm girl from County Galway, sails to America to procure employment, hoping to send money back to her impoverished family in Ireland. When she answers a call for a girl of the same name who perished aboard ship, Clara quickly assumes the identity of this unfortunate, which leads her to obtaining a better position than she could have hoped: lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, mother of the successful, talented businessman Andrew Carnegie. Clara quickly renders herself indispensable to her employer. However, her good sense and intelligence come to the notice of Andrew, and a bond formed over talk of commerce turns to a deeper affection. Unfortunately, Mrs. Carnegie learns of Clara’s true origins. Can Andrew’s love withstand learning her secret-or should Clara simply leave it all behind? Benedict’s (The Other Einstein) second novel captures the rush of industry that accompanied the American Civil War and the men like Andrew Carnegie, who were truly self-made. VERDICT With its well-drawn characters, good pacing, and excellent sense of time and place, this volume should charm lovers of historicals, romance, and the Civil War period. Neither saccharine nor overly dramatized, it’s a very satisfying read.–Pamela O’Sullivan, Coll. at Brockport Lib., SUNY

About the Author

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. While practicing as a lawyer, Marie dreamed of a fantastical job unearthing the hidden historical stories of women — and finally found it when she tried her hand at writing. She embarked on a new, narratively connected series of historical novels with The Other Einstein, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories.

Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.  Her website is www.authormariebenedict.com.

Around the Web

Carnegie’s Maid on Amazon

Carnegie’s Maid on Goodreads

Carnegie’s Maid on JLG

Carnegie’s Maid Publisher Page

Touchdown Kid by Tim Green

Touchdown Kid by Tim Green. October 3, 2017. HarperCollins, 320 p. ISBN: 9780062293855.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.0.

Cory has always been passionate about football. But life for him and his single mom has been hard, making it difficult for Cory to play. And though Cory is a good kid, he’s constantly surrounded by negative influences. But when the coach from an elite private school with one of the best football programs in the country recognizes his talents on the field, Cory is presented with an unbelievable opportunity.

Cory knows that football could be his ticket out. But leaving to attend private school also means struggling to fit into a world where most people look at him and just see a scholarship kid from the wrong side of town. Cory knows that if he can fight hard enough—both on and off the field—he may be able to secure a bright future that looks different from his unpromising past.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Classism

 

About the Author

Tim Green, for many years a star defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons, is a man of many talents. He’s the author of such gripping books for adults as the New York Times bestselling The Dark Side of the Game and a dozen suspense novels, including Exact Revenge and Kingdom Come. Tim graduated covaledictorian from Syracuse University and was a first-round NFL draft pick. He later earned his law degree with honors. Tim has worked as an NFL analyst for FOX Sports and as an NFL commentator for National Public Radio, among other broadcast experience.

He lives with his wife, Illyssa, and their five children in upstate New York.  His website is timgreenbooks.com

 

Around the Web

Touchdown Kid on Amazon

Touchdown Kid on Goodreads

Touchdown Kid on JLG

Touchdown Kid Publisher Page

Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes

Whistling in the Dark by Shirley Hughes. November 14, 2017. Candlewick Press, 240 p. ISBN: 9780763690724.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7.

Liverpool, 1940: Thirteen-year-old Joan’s home is under constant threat from the Nazis’ terrifying nightly air raids. Everyone is on edge, faced with strict food rationing, curfews, and blackouts. It’s not an easy time to be a teenager. Joan’s one solace is going to the movies with her best friend, the unflappable Doreen, but when the bombings intensify, even that becomes too dangerous. There’s also the matter of a strange man who Joan sees lurking near their home. Who is he, and why does he think Joan can help him? Even more unsettling, as the Blitz worsens, Joan and her friends make a discovery down by the old mill that will tear the whole community apart. In the hardship of war, everything seems to be rationed — except true friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Xenophobia

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 5-7. Living on the outskirts of Liverpool in 1940, 13-year-old Joan experiences the terrors of the Blitz, hardships such as food rationing, and the discomfort of watching a slick, unlikable army captain court her widowed mother. School continues as usual, though a new classmate arrives from Poland and, after Joan befriends her, confides her story of fleeing from the Nazis via the Kindertransport. When a stranger is seen lurking in her family’s garden at night, the unsettling event reveals a mystery with a surprising twist and a satisfying conclusion. The well-drawn wartime background is a constant presence, affecting many areas of the characters’ lives, and drawing readers into their story. Hughes, who was a 13-year-old in a Liverpool suburb during WWII, transports readers to that time and place through vivid details of commonplace sights and activities. Realistically flawed, but consistent and motivated by their individual concerns, the characters set in motion certain subplots that intersect as the story evolves. An eventful historical novel with a distinctive setting.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
Schoolgirl Joan Armitage is trying to adjust to life in her suburb near Liverpool in 1940, when everyone tries to carry on a normal life despite nightly air raids on the Liverpool docks by the Luftwaffe. Joan’s father, a wireless operator on an oil tanker, was lost in the mid-Atlantic when his ship caught fire and sank, and she knows quite a few girls at school who have lost a father or brother in the war, too. Now Joan’s mother, brother, and two sisters are just getting by. Hughes’ matter-of-fact third-person narrative details how, despite the dangers of wartime, daily life can be boring, made bearable by friends, school life, an occasional movie, American music on the radio, and chores such as collecting salvage. While her previous World War II novel, Hero on a Bicycle (2013), offered the excitement of an occupied city (Florence) with a resistance movement, Joan’s comparatively uneventful life is not without intrigue: who is that mysterious man Joan has seen in her yard? What’s the story behind the new Polish girl in school? Why has Capt. Ronnie Harper Jones begun hanging around Joan’s house, and how does he always manage to bring parcels of goodies? Aside from Polish Ania, the book’s diversity does not extend much past Anglican Joan’s Catholic and Jewish classmates. A fine war novel about living life despite trying circumstances. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Shirley Hughes is the illustrator of more than two hundred children’s books and has won many prestigious awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal twice. She is the author-illustrator of Don’t Want to Go! and Olly and Me 1 2 3. She lives in London.

 

Around the Web

Whistling in the Dark on Amazon

Whistling in the Dark on Goodreads

Whistling in the Dark on JLG

Whistling in the Dark Publisher Page

The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.. October 10, 2017. First Second, 187 p. ISBN: 9781250158031.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.0.

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

Part of Series: Cucumber Quest (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Body humor

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2017)
Little sisters can’t save the day—or can they? When the nefarious Queen Cordelia takes over Caketown Castle in the Doughnut Kingdom, a hero is needed. Cucumber, a white rabbit with an orange pageboy and a penchant for learning, is chosen, however, he’d rather go to school as planned; indeed, his spunky little sister, Almond, seems better suited for the job. Unfortunately, the Dream Oracle rejects her: “Little sisters aren’t legendary heroes.” Despite parents and oracles, the siblings set out to prove that a hero need not be male. Over the course of their quest in the pastry-themed kingdom, the bunnies meet a silly assortment of similarly food-inspired characters, including a toothless gummy bear and three knights named Sir Bacon, Dame Lettuce, and Sir Tomato. Originally a webcomic created entirely in Photoshop, D.G.’s candy-colored charmer is imbued with a delightfully snarky humor, helping to offset the profusion of cuteness. Gender roles are explored, affirming the notion of staying true to oneself rather than capitulating to the expectations of others. The worldbuilding is cleverly conveyed in bright and dynamic illustrations. Although populated almost entirely by bunnies, they are diversely hued, ranging from light ivory tones to deep, warm browns. Playful aftermatter includes a Q-and-A with the characters, character bios, and a map. An auspicious series opener. (Graphic fantasy. 7-12)

Publishers Weekly (September 11, 2017)
In this first volume in the Cucumber Quest series (originally published as a webcomic), Cucumber the rabbit’s plans to attend Puffington’s Academy for the Magical Gifted (and/or Incredibly Wealthy) are put on hold when the evil Queen Cordelia makes a play for world domination, forcing Cucumber to embark on a heroic quest instead. Cucumber’s younger sister, Almond, is much better suited to questing, but she is constantly underestimated by adults because of her age and gender (comments like “Little sisters aren’t legendary heroes” pop up often). Almond isn’t content to sit at home, of course, so she and Cucumber take on Queen Cordelia, facing off against foes like Sir Tomato, Dame Lettuce, and Sir Bacon as a team. Though Cucumber is ostensibly the central character, Almond steals the show. Comics artist D.G.’s cartooning aesthetic is soft, creamy, and colorful, with an inherent bubbliness that pairs well with the silliness of the story; the stakes don’t feel especially high. Overall, this is a light, charmingly illustrated adventure that successfully introduces Cucumber, Almond, and a humorous supporting cast while setting up future tales. Ages 8-12.

About the Author

Gigi D.G. is a comic artist from Southern California who does concept work for animation and video games. She started creating Cucumber Quest in 2011, and it is her first published work. Her website is cucumber.gigididi.com

Around the Web

The Doughnut Kingdom on Amazon

The Doughnut Kingdom on Goodreads

The Doughnut Kingdom on JLG

The Doughnut Kingdom Publisher Page

Vanilla by Billy Merrell

Vanilla by Billy Merrell. October 10, 2017. Scholastic, 320 p. ISBN: 9781338100921.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Vanilla and Hunter have been dating since seventh grade.
They came out together,
navigated middle school together,
and became that couple in high school
that everyone always sees as a couple.

There are complications and confusions, for sure.
But most of all,
they love each other.

As high school goes, though,
and as their relationship deepens,
some cracks begin to show.

Hunter thinks they should be having sex.
Vanilla isn’t so sure.

Hunter doesn’t mind hanging out with loud, obnoxious friends.
Vanilla would rather avoid them.

If they’re becoming different people,
can they be the same couple?

Falling in love is hard.
Staying in love is harder.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Underage drinking, Smoking, Strong and pervasive sexual themes, Online pornography

 

Video Reviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Hunter and Vanilla have been boyfriends since middle school, but, now 17, their relationship has begun to fray. Ostensibly this is because Hunter is ready for sex, while Vanilla is not. But perhaps there’s something deeper here that the reader will learn along with the two boys. Merrell’s first novel—in verse, of course, Merrell being an accomplished poet—is a sometimes melancholy exercise exploring the enigmatic face of love and its various meanings. The two boys, though alike at first in their love, are two different people—Vanilla being a shy introvert, Hunter an outgoing though sensitive poet. Their story is told in alternating first-person voices, although in the book’s second half, a third voice is added to swell the duet to a chorus: that of a flamboyantly gay boy named Clown, who is, at first, Vanilla’s bête noire, teasing and making fun of him. But, like Vanilla and Hunter, he changes. A strength of Merrell’s thoughtful book is how he dramatizes the many changes the boys go through in terms of their fluid relationships and growing maturity. An important part of this is their evolving sexuality, a process not without surprises and satisfactions. The book is, in sum, a feast for those hungry for character-driven literary fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2017)
Falling in love was the easy part for Hunter and Vanilla…staying together’s the challenge.“You two have been married / since the seventh grade,” says their in-your-face queer classmate Clown. Hunter and Vanilla progressed slowly from being friends to being a couple, and now, at 17, everyone thinks of the two white boys as inseparable. Clown and another aggressively gay classmate regularly throw sexually charged, all-male parties for The Gang. The boys don’t usually attend though Hunter seems to want to. He’s ready to take their relationship beyond kissing and petting; Vanilla is not. Merrell’s debut novel for young adults explores the rocky relationship of the duo in minute emotional detail from both boys’ perspectives as well as from the outside through Clown’s eyes—which gives readers a more nuanced view of gender-fluid Clown as well. Different typefaces indicate the point-of-view character for each free-verse poem as they remember the early days of their relationship and coming out and as they fumble through first romance and new sexual-identity issues. The verse is at times beautiful, touching, and though-provoking but at other times feels merely like prose broken into short lines. It presents a mature and frank (though not explicit) picture of a relationship struggling to survive. Tighter construction might have added more punch to the poetry, but teens will identify with the quest for identity and ground in that most groundless of times. (Verse fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Billy Merrell is the author of Talking in the Dark, a poetry memoir published when he was twenty-one, and is the co-editor (with David Levithan) of The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, which received a Lambda Literary Award.

Merrell is also a contributor to the New York Times-bestselling series Spirit Animals, and has published fiction, poetry, and translations in various journals and anthologies. Born in 1982, he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and received his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his husband, author Nico Medina.  His website is talkinginthedark.com

Around the Web

Vanilla on Amazon

Vanilla on Goodreads

Vanilla on JLG

Vanilla Publisher Page

Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland. September 28, 2017. Candlewick Studio, 240 p. ISBN: 9780763695002.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Long-recognized master of Norse mythology Kevin Crossley-Holland pairs with award-winning artist Jeffrey Alan Love for an exceptional look at the Viking gods.

A collaboration by two talented creators provides the perfect means to delve into Norse mythology and pore over the enthralling exploits of all-powerful Odin; mighty Thor and his hammer, Mjolnir; and Loki, the infamous trickster. From the creation of the nine worlds to the final battle of Ragnarok, Carnegie Medal winner Kevin Crossley-Holland details the Viking gods as never before, while Jeffrey Alan Love’s lavish illustrations bring the mythic figures to life on the page. Readers will be caught up in the seesawing struggle for power between gods, dwarfs, and giants, punctuated by surprising love matches, thrilling journeys, and dazzling magic. With its well-researched, lyrical prose and its dramatic and powerful artwork, this wonderful gift edition makes the perfect book for both the staunchest fans of mythology and newcomers with no knowledge of Viking folklore.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence, Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 7-10. When he was a boy, Crossley-Holland writes, reading Norse myths made him yell and laugh and cry. Today, though the Carnegie Medal–winning author’s imaginative retellings of these ancient stories may still foster yelling and crying, there will be precious little laughing, as the myths are somber in tone and heroic in execution. They begin, logically, with the beginning of the world, and end, tragically, with the death of the gods, but with the hopeful hint of a new beginning. The principal players in these timeless tales are Odin, ruler of the gods; Thor, his mighty, hammer-wielding son; and the shape-shifting trickster god Loki. It is the clever Loki who is the most interesting of the three as he evolves from an antic, sometimes annoying presence to a jealous, vengeful being that brings about the death of Balder, the most beautiful and beloved of the gods. Crossley-Holland’s inspired text is straightforward and largely unadorned in a way that makes it timeless. Meanwhile, Love’s eye-popping expressionist illustrations, rendered in acrylics and ink, decorate almost every page, beautifully creating an often sinister atmosphere that expands the tone of the text. Together words and pictures work to memorable effect, doubtlessly inspiring their young readers to yell and cry. The myths have seldom been better served.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2017)
Twenty tales of gods, giants, and dwarfs, of mighty feats and epic trickery.Veteran storysmith Crossley-Holland has presented versions of these extracts from the Prose Edda before, but here he recasts them into stately retellings that get extra measures of menace and gloom from the heavy shadows and big, indistinct figures that Love places on nearly every double-columned spread. Opening with tributes to the myths and to Snorri Sturluson, their medieval Icelandic recorder, the author moves on to the stories themselves. He includes such familiar episodes as the building of Asgard’s walls, Thor’s “wedding,” (which, what with its closing massacre, comes off as more grimdark than humorous, as played elsewhere), and the death of Balder within the frame story of the Swedish king Gylfi’s sojourns to Valhalla. There he hears from a mysterious, enthroned trio (some of the original source’s Christian inflections are left in for observant readers to notice) of Yggdrasil, the nine worlds, and, finally, the deaths of Odin and the rest. The major themes of deceit and violence play louder here than loyalty, justice, or some other positive value, and women (along with Bragi, the “pink cheeked and girlish” god of poetry) are relegated to minor roles. Still, the tales are colored as much by their depictions of courage in the face of certain ultimate doom as by the illustrations and are thus powerful in emotional resonance—not to mention chock-full of bold deeds, glittering treasures, and scary monsters. Lavishly illustrated and strongly atmospheric—as well suited for reading aloud as alone. (schematic of the nine worlds, cast of characters) (Myths. 11-13)

About the Author

Kevin Crossley-Holland is a well-known poet and prize-winning author for children. He has translated Beowulf from the Anglo-Saxon, and his retellings of traditional tales include The Penguin Book of Norse Myths and British Folk Tales (reissued as The Magic Lands). His collaborations with composers include two operas with Nicola Lefanu (“The Green Children” and “The Wildman”) and one with Rupert Bawden, “The Sailor’s Tale”; song cycles with Sir Arthur Bliss and William Mathias; and a carol with Stephen Paulus for King’s College, Cambridge. His play, The Wuffings, (co-authored with Ivan Cutting) was produced by Eastern Angles in 1997.

He often lectures abroad on behalf of the British Council, regularly leads sessions for teachers and librarians, and visits primary and secondary schools. He offers poetry and prose workshops and talks on the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, King Arthur, heroines and heroes, and myth, legend and folk-tale.

After seven years teaching in Minnesota, where he held an Endowed Chair in the Humanities, Kevin Crossley-Holland returned to the north Norfolk coast in East Anglia, where he now lives. His website is www.kevincrossley-holland.com.

Teacher Resources

Norse Mythology Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Norse Myths on Amazon

Norse Myths on Goodreads

Norse Myths on JLG

Norse Myths Publisher Page