What Would Brian May Read?

My favorite movie of 2018 was Bohemian Rhapsody. I was thrilled to see it, and Rami Malek, win awards, but, as interesting as Freddy Mercury’s story is, I find Queen guitarist Brian May’s story equally as interesting. Not only is he one of the world’s greatest guitarists, he built his own guitar and has a PhD in astrophysics. Although he is now in his 70s he still plays and recently released a new single, “New Horizons”, to celebrate the space probe of the same name as it flew past Ultima Thule, the farthest object in the solar system that a spacecraft has visited. Brian May might be described as a Renaissance Man and I wondered are there Renaissance Teens who might be inspired by these books I think reflect aspects of Brian May’s life?

Continue reading What Would Brian May Read?

Loss of Limbs in YA Books

I’m seeing more books about characters who have suffered the loss of a limb in the past few years. Despite this, all the characters have learned to cope really well. It makes me really grateful for what I have and makes me have more empathy for those who aren’t as fortunate. I’m seeing more realistic portrayals of characters with disabilities who are strong main characters and not secondary ones, maybe due to the diverse books trend.

It seems that there are a range of different types of books with characters lacking limbs. There are fantasies set in the past, science fiction books set in the future and realistic fiction often related to sports or the arts. And, fairy tale retellings, including two published recently based on Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, one of their less well-known tales.

crimson bound hodgeCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge is a lush fantasy that incorporates a number of fairy tales into her story of Rachelle who is forced to fight deadly creatures on behalf of the realm to atone for a reckless act. When the king forces her to guard his bastard son Armand, Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Armand isn’t a warrior like Rachelle because the forestborn that marked him cut off his hands (an homage to Grimm’s Girl Without Arms) but Armand is shrewd and uses his great intelligence to make up for it.


Image-3Stephanie Oakes’ The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2016 Morris Award Finalist and 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee) is unique in that it’s not a fantasy, nor is it SF, it is realistic fiction. The year isn’t specific, but it seems to me to take place in a relatively current time period but since the community is off the grid in a secluded area, it has a more historical feel. This story of one teen’s struggle to break away from the life she’s known in a cult since she was five is gritty and often hard to read but unforgettable. Minnow no longer believes in the Prophet after he announces that God told him to marry her. She dares to attempt to escape but is caught and punished for her disobedience – her hands are cut off. The Prophet even keeps Minnow’s skeletal remains of her hands on his mantel. Minnow tells her story of what happened to her in the cult before and after that horrific event to an FBI psychologist as she’s in juvenile detention on charges of seriously assaulting a mentally unstable young man.


Image-6Anyone familiar with Grimm’s story will notice that there are a number of elements that Oakes faithfully includes from Grimm’s original tale, although Oakes adds an even more shocking twist to her story. (For another version of Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, read Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm (2012) and his commentary about why he dislikes this tale).

Continue reading Loss of Limbs in YA Books

Cross-Unders Revisited: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers

Today’s post is co-written by myself and Kenzie Moore. Kenzie is a student in her final semester of Syracuse University iSchool’s MLIS program, where she’s been focusing on teen services in between watching episodes of Teen Wolf and going to One Direction concerts. You can connect with her on Twitter.

It feels like every day we meet new tweens who are reading above their grade level and seeking recommendations. Cross-unders, or teen books with tween appeal, were well-covered in this 2013 Hub post from Erin Bush and Diane Colson. The YALSA Blog chimed in with reasons why these books are an important part of a teen collection serving reluctant and ELL teen readers as well as advanced tweens and younger teens. Knowing how frequently we search for titles to fit these diverse needs, Kenzie and I offer some additional cross-under suggestions. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Cross-Unders Collage for the Hub

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie — 14-year-old Junior is going to do something he thought was impossible: he’s going to leave the Spokane Indian reservation where he lives. Not permanently or anything, but he deserves better than decades-old math books, and he’s mad about it. Mad enough to do something. Sherman Alexie’s highly-buzzed book deals with some complicated topics: bullying, racism, alcoholism, but it also deals with what it is like to find your own path to walk as a young person. That, combined with the humor in Junior’s voice and his drawings that pepper the pages, is going to make this a high-appeal book for readers just starting to dip their toes into the teen waters. Continue reading Cross-Unders Revisited: Great Teen Books for Tween Readers

Genre Blend: Historical Fiction and Mysteries

"Postcards and magnifying glass" by Anna - Flickr: records. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Postcards_and_magnifying_glass.jpg#/media/File:Postcards_and_magnifying_glass.jpg
“Postcards and magnifying glass” by Anna – Flickr: records. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I am a huge fan of mysteries, especially during the summer! I love a good page-turner that keeps me guessing until the very last page. A great thing about mysteries are that they also work well when they are blended with other genres.  One of my newest favorite genre blends are historical fiction and mysteries! If you are also a fan, or have yet to explore this genre blend, check out some of the titles below to get you started!




Death CloudDeath Cloud by Andrew Lane (2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Set in the summer of 1868, fourteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes is sent to live with his aunt and uncle where he uncovers two mysterious deaths that appear to be plague victims. However, Sherlock suspects that these deaths are not what they seem so he sets out to investigate and uncover the truth.






northern light donnelly printzA  Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (2004 Printz Honor Book, 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2004 Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2004 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)

Based on the true story of the 1906 Gilette murder case, Maggie is working the summer at a nearby inn, when one of the guests drowns.  Mysterious circumstances surround the death, including Maggie’s own involvement and interactions with the victim.





A Spy in the House by Y.S. LeeA Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (2015 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

In Victorian London, Mary is saved from the gallows at the last minute and sent to a school where she is secretly trained to be a spy.  She is eventually selected to work a case where she is undercover as a lady’s companion to investigate a wealthy merchant’s shady business dealings.




Continue reading Genre Blend: Historical Fiction and Mysteries

Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Catherinette Rings Steampunk (Daniel Proulx) (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Steampunk, believe it or not, is a term that has been round since the late 1980s. It is usually defined as a sub-genre of science fiction and features a late 19th century or early 20th century setting, but with steam-powered and clockwork inventions and machines.  Steampunk can also be identified as a sub-genre of speculative fiction and is often described as alternate history.  Most steampunk novels are set in Victorian England or America, but are also known to be set in the Wild West of America.

Authors to Know


Steampunk is often characterized by the setting of the story and inventions that are fantastical and magical. Steampunk uses a lot of visual descriptions, especially when it comes to the machinery and fashion. Oftentimes, a lot of description will go into how a machine works.  Supernatural elements are typically included in a steampunk story. Steampunk plots are adventure-driven stories, where machines play the part of moving the adventure along.  Since there is so much action packed into most steampunk novels, the pacing is usually fast.

The characters of steampunk novels are quirky and include inventors, mad scientists, or the like. Characters in steampunk novels also take on the punk mentality.  Usually the main character or characters is individualistic often goes against the mainstream, and he or she may be fighting for a cause or movement.   Many times the plot of a steampunk novel involves good vs. evil, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined. Continue reading Genre Guide: Steampunk for Teens

What Would They Read?: My Little Pony (Part Two)

My Little Pony
from deviantart user bluedragonhans

Welcome back! As I mentioned before, the television reboot of the My Little Pony franchise (Friendship Is Magic) has managed to find an older audience than one would expect. I am both a regular viewer and frequent reader of YA lit, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at what teen titles the ponies would read in their free time.

I have continued to select books featuring female protagonists, in keeping with many of the themes found in Friendship Is Magic.

Today, I am finishing up the main group of ponies with custom lists for Applejack, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie.

from deviantart user autumn-spice


Racing SavannahApplejack is a strong farm pony who can often be found kicking apple trees to collect the fruit or performing other tasks around the orchard. She seems to prefer physical activities over dress-up, and is successful in tasks that would often be considered more traditional for a male. Because of this, I thought she may enjoy reading Miranda Kenneally’s books that feature female characters participating in sports that are often male-dominated. I think she would start with Racing Savannah because of the equestrian connection, but really Catching Jordan or Stealing Parker would be as appropriate.

I also think that she may be interested in Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins. Now, Applejack may not be a debutante, but she certainly is southern (the whole Apple family has southern twangs!). Rebel Belle features a female lead, Harper, who is charged with protecting a male character. This reminds me of how often Applejack ends up having to save the day on her apple farm instead of leaving it to her older brother, who is larger in size and appears to be the physically stronger pony.  Continue reading What Would They Read?: My Little Pony (Part Two)

Celebrate YA Books That Feature Haitian Culture

Photo May 11, 1 25 33 PMMay’s Haitian Heritage Month is a celebration in the United States of Haitian heritage and culture. It was first celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1998. The Haitian Heritage Month celebration is an expansion of the Haitian Flag Day, a major patriotic day celebration in Haiti and the Diaspora.

Until I started compiling this list, I hadn’t realized I’d read so many YA books with Haitian characters, some written by authors with Haitian ancestry and some not. The most well-known Haitian-American author is probably American Book Award-winning author Edwidge Dandicat. All the books she’s written are for adults, although the collection of stories in her book Krik? Krat! earned her a National Book Award nomination and does have appeal for older teens. The collection includes the Pushcart Prize-winner “Between the Pool and the Gardenias.” Danticat examines the brutality of her native Haiti in the stories in this book, particularly as it affects ordinary Haitian women, in tales that soar with raw emotion.

Other noteworthy YA books about Haiti include:

Continue reading Celebrate YA Books That Feature Haitian Culture

Wait — What IS This Book, Anyway? Genre Blending in YA Lit

YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

Mysteries. Science Fiction. Historical Fiction. Steampunk. Paranormal Romance. Action-Adventure. These are some of what we in the book and library industries call “genres.” Genres help us organize and identify books for readers. If you like an author or a series of books in a certain genre, chances are you’d like other authors and series in the same genre. Easy, right?

People, and not just librarians, organize like things together for one simple reason: It makes them easier to find. “Where are your mysteries?” is a question I am frequently asked when I am working the information desk. “Where do you keep the historical fiction … and what is that anyway?” is another. (What is historical fiction — that’s another blog post entirely!) Up until recently I’ve been able to point to a label on a book and say, “Look for these on the shelf,” or point to a whole shelf and say, “They’re all right there,” or hand over a list that has been painstakingly created and edited by a team of librarians who know mysteries or historical fiction or fantasy or paranormal romance better than anyone else because that’s their favorite genre. But lately I’ve been noticing that many young adult novels don’t exactly fall neatly into one genre or another, and this has been both confusing and exciting.

Continue reading Wait — What IS This Book, Anyway? Genre Blending in YA Lit

Seven Books That Changed the Way I See the World

It was summer semester of my freshman year of college, so the dorm was empty of the usual shouting and jostling. My room was completely dark except for my desk lamp.  Like many students, I was hungry, so I was drinking a cup of hot tea to fool my body into thinking it was not hungry.  I had the Cowboy Junkies’ Caution Horses on the stereo, and I was hunkered in my desk chair reading the final pages of Dostoyevksy’s Crime and Punishment.  I drained my mug, finished the last page, and closed the book.  I had finished the book, but the book wasn’t finished with me.  It haunted me for days, weeks, years.  In fact, I still think about it to this day (many years later).

Some books are like that.  They get their claws into you or they seep into your consciousness and begin to define the way that you see the world.  Your paradigm has shifted, your perspective has been changed, you can never go back to the way that you used to be.

This summer there was a small trend online of listing the seven (or so) books that changed your life.  As far as I can tell this meme came from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, who posted in July her seven books that changed the way she sees the world.  The topic was picked up by Bobbi Newman who shared her list a couple of days later on her Librarian by Day blog.  So, I thought I would do my best to advance the meme by presenting my top seven books that changed the way I see the world and share some of the vote-getters of other bloggers for The Hub.

Let’s start with my list (in no certain order):

Click the picture to go to Goodreads to find out more.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Since I’ve already mentioned this one, it’s a good one to start with. One of the ultimate “serious” books, I had no idea it would be so engaging and engrossing.  It is absolutely universal in its scope but painstakingly detailed in its description of Raskolnikov’s life and philosophy.  Who knew one crime could reveal so much about the world.


   The Catcher in the Rye (Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005) & Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. I’m putting the next two together because I read them back-to-back, they are the same author, and they both had a very similar impact on me.  I often have the tendency to respond very strongly to the narrative voice in a book and these are two books that feel like you really know the narrator.  I read these as a teenager at a time when there weren’t many authentic teen voices in literature.  I was hooked from the first paragraph.  I used to buy copies at thrift stores and give them to people.


 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Teens’ Top Ten, 2009; Best Books for Young Adults, 2009; Popular Paperbacks, 2011) & The Giver by Lois Lowry (Popular Paperbacks, 2010; Lowry was also the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2007).  One sparked my interest in the YA genre; the other renewed my faith.


 Animal Farm by George Orwell.  A book that I describe today as being the closest to perfect that a book can possibly be.  I feel about this book the way I hear people describe their “soul mate.”  Every part of it rings absolutely true for me.  â€œAll animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  Brilliant.


Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Alex Award top ten, 1998; Best Books for Young Adults top ten, 1998).  This is a book that grabs you by the lapels and drags you kicking and screaming up a frozen mountainside in the howling wind.  It is one of the most intense reading experiences that I’ve ever had.  It changed me by making me realize that, among other things, life is pretty easy down here near sea level.  This book was a kick in the pants to get out there and do something difficult.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Excellence in Nonfiction Award nominee, 2010).  Before reading this book, I didn’t know there was a dilemma for omnivores.  I thought very little about the food that I ate.  An attitude that feels sort of quaint when looking back.


The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  This one started with an audio version in English class in school.  The reader was fantastic and really dramatic about it and had me captivated.  Ghostly curses, zombie shipmates, and a haunted old man.  What’s not to love?  I still read it at least once a year.


What makes this exercise of picking these books so much fun is looking back at the list that you create to see what it says about you.  As I look at mine, I realize that I’m an old fuddy-duddy who likes old fuddy-duddy books, so I asked some of the other bloggers here at The Hub to give me some of their picks for books that changed their lives.

So, here is the honorable mention list selected by the bloggers.  I’ve summarized their comments about the books or quoted them when they provided it.

Well, that’s it.  Let’s see what everyone else has to say.  We want to hear about the books that changed your life.

— Joel Bruns, currently reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and Happenstance Found, Book 1 of The Books of Umber by P.W. Catanese.