An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

I am happy to continue our series of 2013 Morris Award finalist interviews with a chat with Elizabeth Ross, author Belle Epoque. Check out Alegria’s review of Belle Epoque, the story of a plain girl hired to become a beauty “foil” for an attractive society girl in 1880s Paris. Elizabeth was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel and even provided us with some pictures used in her research!

In Belle Epoque’s afterword, you mention that Emile Zola’s story ‘Les Repoussoirs’ in part inspired the story, but what made you want to set the book in this time? What do you think is so fascinating to many people of this time in history, and especially in Paris? I’m thinking the enduring love for the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec and other Post-Impressionists, and the continuing romance of the bohemian lifestyle. What is it about that time?

Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec
Salon at the Rue des Moulins, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Paris at the end of the 19th century was a pivotal time in history. Technology, architecture, art and culture were exploding. It was the dawn of the modern age, where the ‘new’ was at odds with old ways of thinking in so many fields.

I’m glad you mentioned Toulouse Lautrec because his art was a huge inspiration for my repoussoirs. The world he painted and the Paris Zola wrote about show the ugly underbelly of a city that we usually associate with romance and luxury. These unbeautiful elements, such as extremes of class and gender inequality, helped augment the stakes and drama for my characters.

Lastly, setting my story in belle époque Paris meant I could examine lots of ideas about today’s society but disguise them in another place and time.

Continue reading An Interview with Morris Finalist Elizabeth Ross, author of Belle Epoque

An Interview with 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist Neal Bascomb

The Nazi HuntersNeal Bascomb is the author of The Nazi Hunters, a finalist for YALSA’s 2014 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. The book is a rewrite of his 2009 book for adults, Chasing Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World’s Most Notorious Nazi, and tells the story of the effort to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann after he was discovered to be living in Argentina. The book is a work of narrative nonfiction, and also includes throughout archival photos and objects, like passports, travel documents, and more. 

Congratulations on your nomination! I understand The Nazi Hunters is an adaptation of your previous work, Hunting Eichmann. What prompted you to approach this subject again? How did you go about creating this new work from the old one (i.e. how much is new, how much is reshaped, etc)?

While researching the story of Eichmann’s hunt and capture, I came across a statement by David Ben Gurion, the leader of the Israeli State, on why he ordered the dangerous operation to seize the Nazi war criminal and bring him to Tel Aviv to face a trial. It would have been much easier—and much less risky on many levels—to simply have Eichmann killed quietly. But Ben-Gurion wanted Eichmann captured alive for two reasons: 1) To remind his country’s youth why the State of Israel needed to exist; 2) To remind the world what happened in the Holocaust.

At its heart, this secret operation was about education, about informing the world of deeds past. In that sense, the story was tailor-made to be written for a younger audience. Unfortunately, I was too dim to see it myself, but then I received a call from a wonderful editor at Scholastic, Cheryl Klein, who had read Hunting Eichmann and saw its potential for this audience.

To adapt the book for younger readers, I focused more on the narrative of events than the layers of history that surrounded it. I wanted to get to the center of who these individuals were who captured Eichmann and explain why they risked their lives to bring him to Israel. Everything else hit the cutting room floor. One could say that Nazi Hunters is truer to the events than the much longer adult book!

Continue reading An Interview with 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist Neal Bascomb

Teens’ Top Ten: Thoughts from a Book Giveaway Winner

Charlefour_TTT_2It has been such an honor to be selected as one of the recipients of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten Book Giveaway. My library is located in Michigan and we are a medium sized library—not small but not big either. Our library’s budget has been dwindling and the teen budget is the smallest as is the case with most libraries budgets across the country. With winning this giveaway, I would have multiple copies of the titles my teens were clamoring to have! Success, as it is always our goal to have titles available that we know that our teen users are going to want to have on our shelves.

What I have found is having these titles on display with signs, labels and also bookmarks listing the titles has brought even more attention to these titles. With the popularity of these titles, they are honestly not always available in the library. For instance, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series– I cannot keep the copies I have on the shelf, let alone on display for less than a day before someone snatches them up.  Perhaps, with the already given mass popularity of these titles, this would not surprise you but with them being on the list it shows the teens browsing the list that there are well known books on the Teens’ Top Ten lists.

Continue reading Teens’ Top Ten: Thoughts from a Book Giveaway Winner

Nonfiction Award Finalist: Courage Has No Color, by Tanya Stone

CourageHasNoColorHistory and biography are among my favorite types of nonfiction to read. There is something extra powerful about a story that reads like fiction, is filled with the same themes that make the best fiction unforgettable, but rests on a foundation of truth and having actually happened. Even the most exciting fiction asks the reader to eventually think “what if this was real?” while nonfiction brings me to constantly reflect on how amazing humans are, and what can be accomplished in the face of incredible odds.

So in some ways I was predisposed to enjoy the YALSA nonfiction nomination Courage Has No Color, The True Story of The Triple Nickles: Americas’ First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone from the title alone. I should probably also admit here to a paralyzing fear of heights, so the idea of jumping out of a plane voluntarily is pretty unimaginable to me. Choosing to face prejudice, train independently, and jump out of a plane in the context of military combat is even more incredible, but that is just what the brave members of the “Triple Nickels,”  U.S. army’s 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, did.

During World War II, the U.S. military service remained deeply segregated. As the book introduced me to the men who would go on to become the Triple Nickles, it was humbling to me how many enlisted in the army when the war began through a deep desire to serve a country that would not fully accept them and afford them the same privileges as their white counterparts– a feeling reinforced as I learned that for most black men enlisting in the service at that time, the only jobs available were service jobs, such as oiling machinery, working in mess halls, or in the case of the founding members of the Triple Nickles, working as night guards at the paratrooper training grounds of Fort Benning, GA. Walter Morris noted that morale among his men was low, and formed a plan to start training in secret with the same drills that paratroopers practiced by day while on their night watch. This sets the tone of the whole incredible story: men who chose to become the best they could be at a job that was both dangerous and thrilling, in spite of receiving little or no support.

Continue reading Nonfiction Award Finalist: Courage Has No Color, by Tanya Stone

Everyone is a Designer: An Interview with YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Chip Kidd

GoChip Kidd is a graphic designer (he created the iconic book cover for Jurassic Park) and a novelist (The Cheese Monkeys), a comic book creator (Batman: Death by Design), and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist (for his book GO! A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design). Mr. Kidd took some time out of his busy schedule to chat on the phone about his book, about how design is intrinsic to everyone’s life, and about which soap opera star he thinks he’s most like.

The Hub: Well first of all congratulations on being a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist.
Chip Kidd: Thank you, I appreciate that.

TH: Why should teens care about design, unless they’re going to be designers?
CK: Well because they already care about it, even if they’re not designers. And PS, I also have the theory that pretty much everyone is a designer whether they realize it or not. There are all sorts of things about your life that you design either consciously or unconsciously. Whether it’s putting together whatever look you’re going to have for that day, or the way you have things arranged on your desk, or in your room, or in your house. I think there are so many design aspects to young people’s lives and I think it helps for them to just consider them and think about them and to, at the very least, understand some of the thinking that goes into pieces of design that they see or interact with every day.

TH: In an interview you gave to the New York Times, you spoke about how the idea of writing for teens made you uncomfortable and that discomfort was actually appealing to you.
CK: (laughter) It’s called masochism! It’s the cliche of being in or out of your comfort zone. I mean, I certainly don’t like being out of my comfort zone all the time but I think that it helps to spur creativity. And most creative people I know want to be challenged. If everything was easy all the time, it just gets boring. I think it’s an interesting, valuable trait for creative people to have.

Continue reading Everyone is a Designer: An Interview with YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Chip Kidd

Nonfiction Award Finalist: Imprisoned by Martin W. Sandler

ImprisonedThis finalist for YALSA’s 2014 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award focuses on the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II in a bold and compelling way. It’s vivid in detail and doesn’t hold back in its telling of a dark part of America’s history.

In my reading of many other books on the same topic, I’ve learned that the vocabulary used to describe this event holds a great deal of weight. The official term most of us learn in history class, “internment,” is considered sanitized and inaccurate by many who actually experienced this disruption and trauma in their lives. Japanese-American advocacy groups such as Densho tend to use the term “incarceration.” Therefore, Sandler’s choice to use the word “imprisoned” for the book’s title and “betrayal” as part of the subtitle immediately informs the reader that this book holds a strong position about the injustice of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II– and the text most certainly supports that position.

Sandler’s clear, well-organized writing draws on personal narratives of Japanese-Americans who lived in the “internment” camps and is accompanied by a wealth of black & white photographs. The narrative is thorough; Sandler not only details life in the camps, but also puts the incarceration in context by touching upon the prejudice against Japanese-Americans before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He also addresses the aftermath of the incarceration during the following decades. The reader will come away with a clear understanding of this piece of history and its significance.

Reading this book brings to mind the dystopian fiction trend in YA lit. A government-sanctioned incarceration of innocent citizens, with little warning or a valid explanation? It sounds like the latest Divergent readalike, but sadly, it’s our history. Sandler’s book comes at a time when teens can make a clear connection from the futuristic fiction they love and the stark recounting of true-life events.

I think this book is an example of nonfiction that teen readers will really connect to. Kudos to YALSA’s Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award committee for recognizing Imprisoned.

-Allison Tran, currently reading an ARC of The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Morris Award Finalist: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Belle EpoqueAs a fan of both Emile Zola and Paris at the turn-of-the-century, I was very excited to read Elizabeth Ross’ debut novel Belle Epoque based on Zola’s short story “Les Repoussoirs.”  Zola’s story briefly outlines how one particularly unsavory businessman opens an agency that rents out unattractive lower-class women to attractive upper-class ones in order to highlight the latter’s beauty.  Near the end of Emile Zola’s story, the narrator states: “I don’t know if you can realize what it is like to be a foil; they have their joys and public triumphs but they also have their very private sorrows.”  In many ways, this one sentence is at the heart of Ross’s novel as she explores with nuance and depth the complex internal lives of these women acting as foils to more beautiful women.

Belle Epoque primarily focuses on the story of Maude Pichon, a poor young girl who has run away from an arranged marriage to find her fortune in the City of Lights.  She soon discovers that life is not as easy as imagined in Paris for a plain woman with few prospects.  Hungry and desperate, she answers an ad looking for young women for “undemanding work”, as she soon finds out the work may be undemanding physically but it is emotionally taxing.  Although not ugly, Maude is deemed plain enough to serve the purposes of the Countess Dubern who needs a suitable companion for her willful and beautiful daughter Isabelle.  Maude’s interactions with the Dubern family form the basis of the story set against the sumptuous backdrop of Paris in the 1890s.

Continue reading Morris Award Finalist: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Hang Out at the Popular Table, or My List-style Love of BFYA

yalsa logoListen, I love a good award.  Oscars?  I’m there.  Grammy’s?  For sure.  Video Music Awards?  Just point me to Kanye (yes, I’m defaulting to Kanye because I will scream if we have to rehash Miley again.  You understand, right?).  But I love book awards more than any other award.  I can’t read all the books in the world (no matter how high I set my Goodreads reading goal), so awards help lead me to the greatest hits.  But you know what I love even more than an award?  A list.  And I’m not alone!  McSweeney’s, Buzzfeed, and Thought Catalog have shown us how America loves them a good list (preferably with animated GIFs).

So, I dream of “best of” lists.   Lists of awesome books that are all uniquely rad but all completely worthy of my precious reading time.  Presented with little fanfare except a Twitter-length description and the unspoken but earnest promise of a good book you won’t regret reading.  I look forward to ALA’s Youth Media Awards, but not for the Newbery or the Printz (okay, maybe a little bit for the Newbery and the Printz).  I’m most looking forward to the Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

So to pay homage to my love of lists and the upcoming 2014 BFYA list (which will name the best books of 2013), here is a list of things I love about the Best Fiction for Young Adults list (and animated GIFs because I know you love them).

  1. Best Fiction takes nominations from YALSA members (like you!), has a committee read them all, and weed out the best books of the year, leaving you with books that will make you fall in love.  The guesswork is gone.
  2. Although we all love to describe and book talk a book as “award-winning,” the Printz award is not going to be an accessible read for every reader.  I have much more luck connecting teens with a great read by using the BFYA list as a jumping off point for recommendations. What teen doesn’t take a book when you go all Emma Stone on them?
  3. “But, Christiana,” you say, “I don’t need a BIG list of things.  I need, like, ten.  Just the best of the best.”  BFYA has thought of that too!  The top 10 of the year are denoted with a star.  If you’re looking for a starting point of the year’s best in YA, second star to the right and straight on till morning.
  4. Last year’s BFYA chair Ted Schelvan was quoted as saying, “our final list is comprised of books a library can be proud to add to their Young Adult collection.”  Which reminds me of the other great part of BFYA: the bang for your buck part (that’s the scientific term).  We’re all trying to do more with less all the time and that includes what we spend money on.  Wouldn’t it be better if we could know we were buying all-stars instead of bench warmers?
  5. Best means books teens AND adults who love good teen lit will love.  Think of it as something of a reverse Alex award.

So– greatest hits.  Not a problem.  I know where you’ll be January 27, but I encourage you not to run away after the Printz and Newbery winners are announced.  BFYA is where all the popular kids (and books) hang out.

-Christiana Congelio, currently reading Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg (and loving it!)

Spotlight on YALSA’s Nonfiction Award Finalists: Fiction Readalikes for The President Has Been Shot! by James L. Swanson

ThePresidentHasBeenShotThe 2014 Nonfiction Award Finalist The President Has Been Shot! reconstructs in vivid detail the tragic events of November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, as well as the days leading up to the assassination and its aftermath. This narrative makes the reader feel like they were there, and will lead teens to want to know more about what life was like during that era.

Try the following novels for excellent fiction companions for Swanson’s account of that terrible day in US history. (The book summaries come from the publishers’ jacket copy.)

  • okay for nowThe Wednesday Wars & Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York. Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

In Okay For Now (companion book to The Wednesday Wars), Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

  • countdownCountdown by Deborah Wiles

Franny Chapman just wants some peace. But that’s hard to get when her best friend is feuding with her, her sister has disappeared, and her uncle is fighting an old war in his head. Her saintly younger brother is no help, and the cute boy across the street only complicates things. Worst of all, everyone is walking around just waiting for a bomb to fall. It’s 1962, and it seems that the whole country is living in fear. When President Kennedy goes on television to say that Russia is sending nuclear missiles to Cuba, it only gets worse. Franny doesn’t know how to deal with what’s going on in the world–no more than she knows with how to deal with what’s going on with her family and friends. But somehow she’s got to make it.

The dramatic events of the 1960s were felt by Americans everywhere, including students attending the Sacred Heart Boarding School in Alaska. When one of them, Luke, hears news of the assassination of Kennedy, the first Catholic president, it triggers fierce emotions that have nothing to do with religion or politics, and everything to do with irrevocable loss.

Luke knows his I’nupiaq name is full of sounds white people can’t say. He knows he’ll have to leave it behind when he and his brothers are sent to boarding school hundreds of miles from their Arctic village. At Sacred Heart School things are different. Instead of family, there are students – Eskimo, Indian, White – who line up on different sides of the cafeteria like there’s some kind of war going on. And instead of comforting words like tutu and maktak, there’s English. Speaking I’nupiaq – or any native language – is forbidden. And Father Mullen, whose fury is like a force of nature, is ready to slap down those who disobey. Luke struggles to survive at Sacred Heart. But he’s not the only one. There’s smart-aleck Amiq, a daring leader – if he doesn’t self destruct; Chickie, blond and freckled, a different kind of outsider; and small quiet Junior, noticing everything and writing it all down. Each has their own story to tell. But once their separate stories come together, things at Sacred Heart School – and in the wider world – will never be the same

-2014 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee in collaboration with Hub blogger Diane Colson

2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #5

yalsa morris nonfiction sealsNot signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. If you’re finished, fill out the form at the bottom of this post to let us know!

I haven’t made any progress on the Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge.  As I mentioned Friday I was reading other stuff. I am in the middle of two challenge books right now though, which is progress right? I’ve started both Go and Sex and Violence so I am feeling a little bit more accomplished than normal since I tend to suck at reading challenges.

So how are you doing? Do we have any new signups? Any one finish yet? What are your favorites so far?  Let me know in the comments and same me into reading more.

– Faythe Arredondo, currently reading Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd