Stories Around the Camp Fire

"fire03" by Chas Redmond. CC BY 2.0.
“fire03” by Chas Redmond. CC BY 2.0.

With summer just around the corner and the weather improving, summer camp season is almost upon us. This traditional summer activity offers so many possible adventures that it has long been a staple of stories about teens. While there are plenty of other stories set during summer vacation, there is something special about heading away from home for a summer in a cabin or a tent. Whether you are looking for something to read with a flashlight in your cabin after lights out or want to live vicariously, here are some great books about summer camp!

Brain CampBrain Camp by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan with illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks – When the concerned parents of Jenna and Lucas are told that their children are being invited to spend the summer at Camp Fielding, known for churning out brilliant overachievers, they leap at the opportunity. But once Jenna and Lucas arrive, they realize that not everything is as it seems as campers around them become mindless but superficially smart. Told with just the right mix of creepiness and humor, this book, which appeared on the 2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, is the perfect book for reluctant campers looking for some laughs. Continue reading Stories Around the Camp Fire

Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2014: Remembering Ned Vizzini

yalsa logoYALSA’s 2014 Popular Paperbacks For Young Adults  committee created three themed lists of paperbacks: “Conflicted: Life During Wartime,” “GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual Individuals, and Their Allies,” and “Humor Me: Funny, Fantastic and Witty Reads.” Nominations for PPYA must fit one of the selected themes, and they must be popular. Literary quality is not a consideration, just an added bonus.

Committee members read widely, searching for a diversity of formats, ethnic representation, and character experience. The “Conflicted” subcommittee worked from a grim spreadsheet of wars, making sure to cover as many locations and time periods as possible. In the graphic novel War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel Lafrance, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army abducts Jacob and his friends from their Ugandan boarding school. Based on interviews with child soldiers, this brutal story’s bold, expressive illustrations make it all the more harrowing.

The “GLBTQ” subcommittee was delighted to find a large pool of recently published titles to choose from. One of the PPYA Top Ten titles (and a 2014 Stonewall Award winner) is Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills. Elizabeth becomes Gabe when he DJ’s a community radio show, an inspired way of illustrating a transitioning teen’s gradual steps into a fuller identity.

teen_angst_vizziniCreating the “Humor” list got serious fast. Members honed their evaluation skills by subsuming their personal preferences to a rather mechanical rubric of humor, which led to existential debates about many of the titles: did they exist to be funny?

The tortured discussions ended with Ned Vizzini’s Teen Angst? Naaah… A young adult humor list almost requires a book by Vizzini, and these essays about his high school adventures as a domino player, a Magic: The Gathering fanatic, and a Stuyvesant student are a perfect fit.

This is Vizzini at the beginning of his career, before the full-fledged novels and the film adaptation; before he became a husband and a father; before we lost him to suicide. This is Vizzini as a teen, noting, “Destruction can really cheer up a thirteen-year-old,” realizing that to be happy “all you really needed was to feel superior,” and reminding himself “not to be such a cynical eff.” Vizzini rounded out his humor with a great deal of vulnerability and warmth. Remembering this, you may laugh until you cry.

-Lisa Goldstein, currently re-reading Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini

WWAR? (What Would Abe Read?)

abraham_lincoln_readPresidents’ Day celebrates the births of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, arguably the United States of America’s greatest presidents.

Abraham Lincoln came from poverty and rose to lead the country through the greatest trouble a nation can have: a civil war. Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky in 1809, and was basically self educated. A voracious reader, he grew up to become a lawyer and an Illinois congressman before being elected US President in 1860. Perhaps his greatest legacy is abolishing slavery in the United States and this was foreshadowed early in his life: when he was a child, his family moved twice to get out of pro-slavery areas, and as a representative on both the state and national levels, Lincoln spoke out and voted against slavery consistently.

According to David Herbert Donald’s 1996 biography Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln read and reread such books as The Bible, Aesop’s Fables, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. Taking a leap of imagination, and asking the spirit of President Lincoln for forgiveness for my temerity, I would like to suggest half a dozen YA books that the sixteenth president might very much enjoy today.

redbadgecouragecoverLet us begin with the obvious, shall we? Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is required reading for many middle and high school students in the US, and for a good reason. Though written in 1895 by a man who never fought in a war, the novel is hailed for its realism and honesty about battles, bravery, and coming of age. Soldiers today praise its portrayal of life in the field. Mr. Lincoln might very well enjoy reading such a well-written and well-regarded book about “his” war.americanbornchinesecover

And now for something that is perhaps not obvious at all. The 2007 Printz Award winning American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang might grab Mr. Lincoln’s attention with it’s gorgeous illustrations and quiet palette; but its themes of race, identity, and self acceptance, along with its intelligent humor might very well keep the president reading. With his anti-slavery stance, Lincoln was most assuredly focused on race and identity, and the fact that he was a self-made man with a good sense of humor leads me to think he’d enjoy those aspects of the book as well. Continue reading WWAR? (What Would Abe Read?)