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Art in the Stacks: books for creative teens

Summer means that it is time to delve deeply into your passions and spend a few weeks immersed in your favorite topics at summer camp. As teens flock to soccer camps, language camps, and space camps, here are some books for teens headed to art camps.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000 Printz Honor) is about expressing yourself. After ending her 8th grade summer with a traumatic event that’s shrouded in mystery until the final few chapters, Melinda is an outcast at her new high school. Unable to talk openly with her ex-friends and unwilling to talk to her teachers, Melinda’s only way to communicate is through her art class. Melinda’s art reflects her inner emotions: confusion, depression and feeling lost. By the end of 9th grade, Melinda has begun to tell a story with her drawings and sculptures — and then she is finally able to tell her story.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick): Reeling from the loss of her older (and revered) sister Bailey, gifted clarinetist Lennie is trying to hold the pieces of herself together. One piece of her longs for her sister, and in an effort to fill that empty space in her heart, falls in love with her sister’s boyfriend, Toby. Another piece of her, longing to live and to play, is drawn to the charismatic, musical, and optimistic new boy in town, Joe. The book is also filled with Lennie’s beautiful poems that she writes on bubblegum wrappers, scraps of paper, and cereal boxes, leaving a wake of words behind her.

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Amelia Elizabeth Walden finalists announced

On Monday, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) announced the finalists for this year’s Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction. The Walden Award recognizes a title with “a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.” As anyone who reads a lot of YA knows, that can be an elusive combination, but the finalists have it in spades. The members of the Walden Award Committee picked five titles; together, the books make up an intriguing and diverse list. It’s got historical fiction, contemporary fiction, a novel in verse, and one of the most under-appreciated dystopias of last year. It also has quite a bit of overlap with YALSA’s awards and selected lists, which hopefully means that both YALSA and NCTE (that’s the National Council of Teachers of English, ALAN’s parent organization) are on the right track!


(Almost) Everything I Need to Know About History, I Learned From YA Novels

While this title may be an exaggeration, as I was a history major in college, it’s true that much of what I remember about history comes from reading historical fiction and biographies or memoirs. While not all of the historical books I love are YA, there are a number of YA titles that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about those who came before us.

My inspiration for this post came when a friend told me he doesn’t like history because “It’s just a bunch of memorizing dates.” Whaaaat? No! The most important part of the word history is STORY: the story of men, women, and children who have lived on this earth and done both fantastic and everyday things. I am a true believer that the only way to understand the societies and cultures of today is to look to the past to see how they have developed over time. Stories populated with memorable characters are the best way to contextualize and immerse myself in that past.

What follows is pretty much a mish-mash of titles that have recently taught me about the past. Due to space limitations, I have only provided brief descriptions; check them out on Goodreads for more information.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Disease! Always a fascinatingly morbid topic. I had no idea yellow fever was so serious until I read this book. (If, like me, you find epidemics to be weirdly interesting, read the adult novel Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.)


Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Based on Thomas Jefferson’s children with Sally Hemings, this book gives great insight into one of our most well known Presidents. (I’ll say this: the man had a lot of debts and a strange grasp on the idea of equality.)


The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman
This novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl time traveling from 1960 to 1860. It is a truly moving and intriguing look at the lives of slaves in Southern plantations, as well as the relationships between whites and blacks in the South at the start of the 1960s. I found a blurb for it on Amazon by Jane Yolen, which is quite fitting, because this book reminded me of The Devil’s Arithmetic.


Books That Make You Fight Back

Right now its a beautiful summer day outside my door. The sun is shinning, a cool breeze is blowing, and it is hard to imagine a day more perfect. What isn’t hard is imagining a worse scene. News reports, documentaries, even Twitter all bring stories and images of a darker world. Sometimes it’s even as easy as opening a book.

For many teens, adolescence is when they start seeing the dark in the world, near and far. Many teens themselves live in dangerous areas where violence and crime are everyday occurrences that affect them. Teens are also used to having little or no voice when it comes to many important choices. They can’t vote yet and are subject to their parents’ and school rules. As a result many are very aware of social injustices, unfairness, or lack of equality in their own society and others. YA literature is full of books that look closer at social injustices that make you want to fight back.

Shine by Lauren Myracle (2012 Teens’ Top Ten Nominee)

Cat doesn’t have many friends anymore, but she’s shaken when one she was close to, Patrick, is severely beaten and left for dead. In her small, rural community, many people are willing to think and say he was asking for it by being gay. Cat doesn’t care why; she wants answers and she wants to know who.

Myracle creates more than just a story of homophobia and intolerance. She looks at deeper layers involved: poverty, abuse, drug use, and bullying. What could be preachy or after-school special is instead a complex and fully realized story. Myracle makes the effort to create a place where terrible things can happen but also shows that the violent cycle can be broken.


Why YA in the Classroom

Recently a report on high school students and reading levels came out with an alarming headline: “High Schoolers Reading at 5th Grade-Level.” Covered previously here at The Hub, the report gathered data suggesting that a majority of high school students are reading below grade level. It also asked an important question: what should kids be reading? One answer to this question is using more young adult literature in high school classes to increase interest and reading levels. YA is more popular than ever thanks to a certain dystopian series being turned into an insanely popular movie. But this strategy is not without its drawbacks.

Last month a teacher in South Carolina was suspended for reading aloud a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a YA science fiction book considered by many a classic and often taught in schools in units dealing with identity and morality. The Arizona State Legislature passed legislation last year effectively banning YA titles that had previously been used in successful multicultural studies curriculum. John Green recently defended his book Looking For Alaska (the 2006 Printz Award winner) on Twitter after it was removed from a school reading list on the basis it is “pornographic.”

YA books are far from being universally accepted in school classrooms. Their inclusion presents unique challenges (sometimes literally) but also amazing opportunities. A compelling reason to include YA literature in classrooms is content. Teens, like most readers, appreciate characters and situation that are familiar to them and their lives. Readers have a stronger connection to the text when they can see themselves and their struggles in the story. YA literature also offers readers diverse characters, compelling stories, and high quality writing. When incorporated into literature curricula, YA titles can offer a wide spectrum of views on popular themes like identity, conflict, society and survival. YA literature can be easily incorporated into classroom through literature circles, supplemental reading lists, multimedia projects, and of course being paired with canonical texts typically used in classrooms.

Here’s a list of YA titles that would fit into the classroom, organized by theme.


PPYA Revisited: Teens from Other Times

Historical Fiction section of a libraryRecently, an author friend on Goodreads posted about the recent scarcity of historical fiction in the YA category. After a swift perusal of my own “read” and “to-read” list, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that it’s true. With that thought in mind, I had a look at YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (PPYA) lists, which have themes every year. The last time a historical fiction PPYA list was done was in 1998, the second year PPYA was in existence. The theme was “Teens from Other Times” and featured familiar titles Catherine, Called Birdy, Walter Dean Myers’ Fallen Angels, and Ann Rinaldi’s In My Father’s House. Of the twenty five titles placed in this category, few are regular familiars. If there are fewer pure historical fiction novels being written for a young adult audience, how do we determine the best ones to read? I am a history buff myself, and I usually find that fascinating characters, groups, or events from history can draw out the most compelling story. This is not, however, always the case. A fabricated historical figure, or one whose name might have been picked from a historical account and then fictionalized, can pull a reader just as well in any era. Every point in time had something going on; it’s up to the author to realize that event and make it palpable to the reader.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few books that might be on this PPYA list if it had been created today. This was actually a difficult list to put together, as there are no parallel plotlines, no magical realism or urban fantasy, and absolutely NO speculative fiction (that last was really hard; some of my favorite “Victorian” novels are actually steam- and dieselpunk). Also, more recent titles were considered; we’re going to stick to novels written in the 2000s or later. Finally, the parameters of PPYA–as seen in the title–indicate paperbacks, and therefore some of the great historical fiction that has come out in the past year would not qualify.

PPYA lists are usually 25 titles long; we’re going to do 10 of the historical fiction novels that have been incredibly popular from their hardcover release through to their paperback ones.


Highlights from the Morris and Nonfiction Awards reception

Every year librarians, teachers, and avid readers sit on the edge of their seats for the big announcement made on the Monday of the American Libraries Association’s Midwinter Conference. And every year, the announcements are met with some surprise, some confirmation, some discussion, and a ton of excitement. This year was no different, and this same enthusiasm obviously carried over into YALSA’s Morris Award and Excellence in Non-Fiction Award Reception.

This year’s William C. Morris Award—which is given to a debut book published for teens by a first-time author—was given to John Corey Whaley for his book Where Things Come Back. Whaley garnered the coveted Printz Award for this title, as well.

Four other books were honored as finalists including Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

Via a video recording, Rae Carson responded to her newly awarded honor. She noted that this was probably “the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.” She gave shout outs to many of the other finalists saying that they were “awesome people!” Her plans overall were to celebrate with “an egregiously expensive bottle of champagne.” She ended her video with a special appearance by her cat, “Rage,” otherwise known as angry kitty, which was both funny and lighthearted.

Probably one of the most emotional acceptance speeches of the afternoon was given by finalist Guadalupe Garcia McCall.

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Youth Media Awards wrap-up

Monday was a big, big day for young adult literature. After months of speculation, Mock Printz committees, posts about the finalists for the William C. Morris and Excellence in Nonfiction Awards, and tons and tons and tons of reading by dedicated committee members, the ALA’s Youth Media Awards were announced at the Midwinter Conference in Dallas.

One of my favorite things about being a young adult librarian is the incredible sense of community that’s grown up about libraries and young adult literature, and the YMAs were a perfect example. I wasn’t able to be in Dallas this year, but luckily for me and other librarians, publishers, and YA and children’s lit fans around the world, the announcements were streamed live (in fact, you can watch the archived announcements and videos by some of the honored authors and illustrators on the YMA’s YouTube Channel).

I watched the announcements in one window and had Twitter up in another. There was plenty of buzz on Twitter–so much so that #alayma was trending for more than an hour! Lots of author names and book titles also trended following the announcement of each award. If you haven’t had the chance before, I highly recommend watching the announcements live if you can. It’s so great to hear the audience erupt in cheers when the winners are announced, and if you’re anything like me, you might find yourself cheering along. Being a reader of and writer for the Hub made this year’s awards especially fun for me. I’d read four of the five Morris finalists (two of which won other awards–including the Printz!), something which I might not have done were it not for The Hub.

Here’s the complete list of all the awards given in young adult literature. The name of each award will link to the award’s page on the ALA website, where you can learn about the history and see a complete list of winners. If The Hub did any coverage of a book before its big win, I’ve linked to that too. Enjoy!


Morris Award Finalist: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

The 2012 Morris Award finalists were just announced last week and it is yet another outstanding year for debut YA writers. The best part is that there is a little bit of everything in the selection: something for the paranormal readers, something for historical fans, and some great things for readers of contemporary YA literature. Here are the finalists:

  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns, written by Rae Carson and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Paper Covers Rock, written by Jenny Hubbard and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.
  • Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and published by Lee and Low Books
  • Between Shades of Gray, written by Ruta Sepetys and published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group USA.
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
  • As a librarian, I have some work to do myself on reading a few of these titles still, but I cannot wait. I’ve come to expect excellent quality of writing and storytelling when it comes to the Morris Award, and my favorite on this list is no different. I love WWII and Holocaust-era historical fiction. It was my favorite time period of history to study in college (I was a History and English major so I got the best of both worlds). It is no surprise to me that Ruta Sepetys’s heartbreaking and thorough look at the forced relocation of thousands of Lithuanians is on this list.

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