Category Archives: Realistic

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; Illustrations by Jim Kay

monster callsBibliographic Information:

Ness, P., Kay, J., & Dowd, S. (2011). A monster calls: A novel. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (9780-763655594)

Plot Summary:

Conor is a 13 year-old-boy who is suffering from a nightmare that he has been having for the past few months. Then, one night, the monster comes. The monster tells Conor that he came because Conor called him.

Conor has a lot to deal with. His mother is dying of cancer and his grandmother is starting to take care of him. His father has his own life and family and is not available for Conor during this crisis. And then there is school. Lately, he has caught the eye of a bully.

Critical Evaluation:

The original plot was conceived by Siobban Dowd, as Ness explains in his Author’s note. She died from cancer before writing it herself. The illustrator on the project is Jim Kay. As with a graphic novel, the power of this story comes from the interplay between the text and the illustrations.

The illustrations are dark and vague. They are suggestions that can work with one’s imagination.Kay describes his technique fittingly when he says, “I prefer to work starting from a black canvas and pull the light out, which makes for a much darker image. The important thing was to give the reader the room to create their own characters and images in their mind, I was just putting suggestions of the Monster and Conor in there to help them along the way; darkness and ambiguity allow the reader to illuminate the scenes internally I think” (Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk).

Illustration from A Monster Calls

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books from article “How we made A Monster Calls.

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books

Ness has the chapters with the monster visits and his story interspersed with chapters showing Conor’s life during the day. The monster’s tales are striking. As the monster says, “Stories as the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt” ((p. 35) Each story provides Conor a lesson but that lesson may not be the one Conor expects. After the third story, Conor must tell a story and it must be the truth.

A Monster Calls takes the reader on a journey through the emotions of the survivor. It is painful, beautiful, and cathartic. It also holds a lot of symbolism and imagery for discussion in an English class.

Reader’s Annotation:

A young boy is visited by a monster who forces him to accept some unpleasant truths through a visit every night and the stories he tells. The monster agrees to tell three stories after which Conor must tell his story.

Information About the Author:

Jim Kay

Jim Kay studied illustrations at the University of Westminster. Jim Kay loves art and botany. He credits his time at the Kew Gardens as the Assistant Curator for the Illustrations Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for introducing him to a variety of resources across the world (Jim Kay biography).

He has also provided images and research for publishers and television companies. In 2008 his one-man exhibition on the theme of producing ideas for children’s book attracted interest. He is now a full-time illustrator.

Jim grew up in Nottinghamshire.

For more information please visit his site.

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has two very different biographies. His personal one is quirky and firmly roots him in the world of supernatural writing. His professional one focuses briefly on his life and delves into his works.

Although Ness was born in Virginia, he admits he has never been back. As an army brat he has lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California. He has called England home since 1999 (Biography, 2013).

Ness studies English Literature at the University of Southern California. He always wanted to be an author so he has tried to make sure all his jobs were related to writing. As a result, he worked as a corporate writer at a cable company, freelanced as a journalist, and taught Creative Writing at Oxford University. He has written for a number of English papers including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement.

For more information please visit Patrick Ness’ website.

Genre:

  • Realistic
  • Identity
  • Guilt
  • family

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Imagery, character types
  • Art
  • Counseling

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read one of the monster’s stories
  • Show some of the art in the book

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I think it is very important that we have a variety of different resources for students. Many students will experience loss while in the high school years and many do not allow themselves to grieve and the pain is internalized. Books such as A Monster Calls will speak to these students. It is also an excellent book to be deconstructed in an English class. It is short but powerful with great imagery and Ness uses a variety of literary devices in his narrative.

Awards:

  • Carnegie Medal
  • Galaxy National Awards Winner
  • British Children’s Book of the Year
  • Red House Children’s Book Award
  • Kitschies Red Tentacle
  • Booklist “Top of the List” for 2011 youth fiction

Reviews:

  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). A Monster Calls. Horn Book Magazine, 87(5), 93.

“Carnegie Medal–winner Ness’s eloquent tale of pain and loss, inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd prior to her early death from cancer in 2007, is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.”

  • Welz, K. (2011). A Monster Calls. School Library Journal, 57(9), 164.

“This is an extraordinarily moving story inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd before she passed away. Kay’s shadowy illustrations slither along the borders of the pages and intermingle with text to help set its dark, mysterious mood, while Conor is often seen as a silhouette. A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.”

References:

Biography Patrick Ness. (2013). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/patrick-ness

Jim Kay biography. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.alisoneldred.com/biogJimKay.html

Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk. (2012, June 14). How we made A Monster
Calls. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from The Guardian website:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-books-site/2012/jun/14/a-monster-calls-patrick-ness-jim-kay

Patrick Ness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.patrickness.com/index.html

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Swim the Fly by Don Calame

swim the flyBibliographic Information:

Calame, D. (2010). Swim the fly. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (978-0763647766)

Sequel: Beat the Band

            Call the Shots

Plot Summary:

A guy needs to have a goal to accomplish during the summer. So you can have something to write about in the annual “What I did this summer” essay. So, Matt Gratton sets two; to see a naked girl for the first time and to swim the 100-yard butterfly. It’s a toss-up as to which one if harder but he and best friends Coop and Sean, will have a tale to tell in September.

Critical Evaluation:

Swim the Fly is a slapstick novel involving diarrhea, throwing up, and basic locker room humor. This is definitely a book catering to teenage boys. It is fun, silly and irreverent. These are all things that make it a good choice for the reluctant reader.

Reader’s Annotation:

Three boys have a series of misadventures as they try to meet their goal of seeing a naked girl this summer.

Information About the Author:

Don Calame is a teacher, screenwriter, and author. His film projects include Employee of the Month and Hounded. He has worked for Universal Studios, Pictures, and Lionsgate, among others.

He was born and raised in Hicksville, New York. After graduating Adelphi with a Bachelor’s in Communication, he moved to Los Angeles to write screenplays. While he tried to break into the film industry he taught grades 3-5 for four years in Los Angeles.  (Bios).

Swim the Fly was his first novel. He currently lives in British Columbia with his family.

For more information about the author, please visit his site.  His biography is much more entertaining than mine. His humour is not contained to his fiction.

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction
  • Humorous fiction
  • Friendship
  • Coming of age
  • Swimming
  • Canadian author

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Make a “What I did this summer list”
  • Show Don Calame’s book trailer

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Swim the Fly is a fun realistic novel. It may be young for a high school audience but we have to remember that students are at different levels of their development at this stage. We need to ensure we have materials for the younger students as well as the more mature students.

Awards:

  • OLA Forest of Reading White Pine Award, 2011, Nominee
  • Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Honor Book
  • New Westminster Hyack Teen Readers Award, Nominee
  • Nevada Young Readers Award, 2011, Nominee
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults Nominee
  • Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) Book Award, Nominee

Reviews:

  • Swim the Fly. (2009). Publishers Weekly, 256(16), 49.

“This one will spread like athlete’s foot in a locker room.”

  • Kraus, D. (2009). Swim the Fly. Booklist, 105(14), 55.

“Although Calame underuses his moments of poignancy, teen readers will have a blast puzzling out the creative vulgarisms. “Pants hamster” is just the beginning.”

References:

Bio. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2013 from http://www.doncalame.com/bio/

 

Bios Don Calame. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2013 from http://www.candlewick.com/authill.asp?b=Author&m=bio&id=3384&pix=y

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

abundance of katherinesBibliographic Information:

Green, J. (2008). An abundance of Katherines. New York: Speak. (9780142412022)

Plot Summary:

Colin Singleton is worried that he is a washed-up child prodigy and will never make genius status. And he was just dumped by his girlfriend, Katherine the 19th. So, he and his friend, Hassan, decide to go on a road trip to Chicago. On the way, they stop at Gutshot Tennessee for a tour of the gravesite of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. While there, they are invited to stay and interview help with a local history project. Colin also meets Lindsey, a girl whose name is not Katherine.

To be a genius, Colin knows he has to create something new so he decides to create a formula to determine how long a relationship will last.

Critical Evaluation:

Abundance of Katherines  is a quirky book with an abundance of unique and complex characters. It can be enjoyed for the humour at this level, but it is a book that will speak to readers at other levels as well.

At one level it is a book about finding meaning in one’s ordinary life. A teacher at my school has a quote above her whiteboard that reads, “What will you do with your one special life?” This is a question that Colin, Hassan, Lindsay, and Hollis are all grappling with; although they would debate the “special”. Indeed, it is the reason why Hollis (Lindsay’s mother) hired the boys. Colin and Hassan spend a lot of time interviewing people as part of the local history project because the town is dying and there is a desire to create a living record of their time and space.

Colin also obsesses about leaving a mark. The idea that he is washed up and will never be anything more than a child prodigy is abhorrent to him. He has worked very hard to be special. Not only did he study all the time in high school but in his free time he still anagram and studies languages and codes. In short, Colin does not easily fit into society. He does not pick up on social cues or react to people as expected.

Hassan is another character who is having difficulty finding where he fits in the world. Since he cannot decide what to do he chooses to do nothing. He has chosen Judge Judy over attending college.

In other words, Colin and Hassan are not feeling connected with other people. They hover at the edges of other people’s social lives. Green emphasizes this separation by using a third person narrative structure. He limits the point of view to Colin but does not allow Colin to tell the story thus separating him for the readers.

Colin’s back story is very important for the plot development in the present. He needs to go back and analyze his past relationships so that he can look for patterns. And that is another interesting theme of the book. The patterns in math, of which there are many demonstrated in the novel, are understandable. Colin’s difficulties with relationships are partially due to the fact that they are not explainable with a pattern.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Colin is dumped the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine he realizes that this is not a good pattern. So, he decides to create formula to determine how long a relationship will last. When Lindsay is introduced as a factor in the formula it becomes clear that she may be too random to fit.

Information About the Author:

An award winning author, John Green has written Looking for Alaska (2006 Michael L. Printz Award), Paper Towns (2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery) and The Fault in Our Stars (2013 Odyssey Award Audiobook)

John Green was born August 4th, 1977 in Orlando, Florida. Green stays connected with his readers through his video blog, Brotherhood 2.0, that he operates with his brother (John Green).

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction
  • Interpersonal relations — Juvenile fiction.
  • Self-perception — Juvenile fiction.
  • Mathematics — Juvenile fiction.

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Character development
    • Coming-of-age
    • identity

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read a passage from the book where Hassan finds Colin on the floor.
  • Book list – Road Trips

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

 My daughter received a copy of An Abundance of Katherines for her birthday and strongly recommended I read. I have a policy of reading the novels teenagers recommend to me and decided to add it to this collection. It is realistic and humourous, which will appeal to my teen readers.

Reviews:

  • Pattee, A. S. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. School Library Journal, 52(9), 206.

“As usual, Green’s primary and secondary characters are given descriptive attention and are fully and humorously realized. While enjoyable, witty, and even charming, a book with an appendix that describes how the mathematical functions in the novel can be created and graphed is not for everybody. The readers who do embrace this book, however, will do so wholeheartedly.”

  • Dobrez, C. (2006). An Abundance of Katherines. Booklist, 102(22), 75.

“The idea behind the book is that everyone’s story counts, and what Colin’s contributes to the world, no matter how small it may seem to him, will, indeed, matter.”

Awards:

  • 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
  • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

References:

An abundance of Katherines. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2013 from http://johngreenbooks.com/abundance-of-katherines/

John Green (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2013 from http://johngreenbooks.com/bio-contact/

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

DanteBibliographic Information:

Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR. (978-1442408920)

Plot Summary:

Two lonely young men become friends over a summer when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. Aristotle (Ari) likes to be alone and is very comfortable with silence but uneasy with the secrets in his family. Dante is a reader, artistic, and appears to be comfortable with himself and his loving family. Together they share the awkward moments and the experimentation that goes along with being sixteen.

Critical Evaluation:

There is so much to talk about in this book; the poetry of the prose, the multidimensional characters; the different relationships of the young men with their parents, their relationship with one another.

To begin with, the pacing is an important aspect of this novel. Ari wants to understand his father and what happened to him in Vietnam. He wants his parents to talk about his brother who is in jail. He needs to understand himself and who he wants to be. This takes time and introspection and Sáenz gives him that. He allows the characters to walk in the rain, laugh about their names, read books, and write letters to each other and to themselves in a journal. There is action in the novel but allowing the reader to breathe and take in the imagery strengthens the emotion and reaction from the reader.

The theme of identity is also prevalent in the novel. The two boys are Mexican but they are not always aware of what that label should mean to them. At times, it appears to be a negative. Dante’s mother wants him to wear shoes so he does not look like a poor Mexican. At other times, the characters wear their heritage proudly and even worry that they are not Mexican enough. Ari particularly struggles with his identity. He tells his mother, for example, that he wants to be a bad boy – to the point that he convinces a drunk to purchase beer for him. But, he will not drink and drive and he refuses to do drugs when he is offerred them. He has conflicted feelings towards his father and cannot decide if he should force the conversation about his brother who is in jail that his parents appear to have forgotten.

Reader’s Annotation:

Ari and Dante are very different young men. Ari is dark and quiet. Dante is sensitive and artistic. Together they are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in their world.

Information About the Author:

Benjamin Alire Saenz surrounds himself with writing. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas in El Paso and is a poet and author of books for teens and adults. He has won several awards for his writing including the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his short story collection, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, and a young adult novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood.

Born in 1954 in Old Picacho New Mexico, he grew up in “a traditional Mexican-American Catholic family” (Benjamin Alire Sáenz). He took theological studies at the University of Louvain and was later ordained a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood, however, three years later. At 30, he returned to school. In 1988 he received the Wallace E. Stegner Followship in poetry from Stanford University. In 1993, he returned to the University of Texas in El Paso to teach.

For more information please visit his page at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social justice
  • English
    • Stereotypes
    • Character development
    • Coming of age

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Make a booklist of the books that are referred to in the novel
  • Read from p. 83 when Ari is talking about writing in his journal and rules
  • Make a journal booklist

Coming of age, family, friendship
Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Homosexuality

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection policy
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

http://www.npr.org/2013/02/20/172495550/discovering-sexuality-through-teen-lit

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Awards:

  • 2013 Printz Honor Award
  • 2013 Stonewall Award
  • 2013 Belpré Award
  • Top Ten choice for the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list

Reviews:

“This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return.”

“Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other.”

“Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author’s gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships.”

References:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz. ( 2013). Retrieved from http://www.cincopuntos.com/authors_detail.sstg?id=3

In Darkness by Nick Lake

in darknessBibliographic Information:

Lake, N. (2012). In darkness. New York: Bloomsbury. (ISBN 978-1599907437)

Plot Summary:

When an earthquake destroys the hospital where he was staying, fifteen-year-old Shorty is buried in the rubble. While he is waiting to be rescued or to die, he tells the reader the story of his life. In the darkness, he also makes a connection with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slave who became the leader of the 18th-century Haitian revolution.

Through alternating chapters In Darkness  provides the reader the historical background so the reader can understand the systemic violence and poverty that is part of the real Haiti today.

Critical Evaluation:

When a novel’s plot revolves around a violent and bleak reality it can make for a difficult read. This is not the case with In Darkness. The events the plot is based on are an ugly reality. Shorty’s narration of his life with the death of his father, poverty, and killings he participated in hardly make him a sympathetic character. He is a self-described gangster.

Lake has added a mystical layer to the tale by merging the plot with Hatian mythology and religion.  Orenstein (2012) makes a great observation when she explains that “Shorty, L’Ouverture and Haiti itself are all connected to this metaphor [of the zombie] – each lost in darkness, near death…It’s a beautifully complex metaphor, but a disturbing way to bind a novel – that is, if you want to leave a young reader with hope.” In the end, Lake does leave the reader with hope through his two protagonists.

There is a very important element that takes this novel to another level and that is the strong and carefully crafted characters of Shorty and Toussaint. There is hope and beauty in these two men – and nobility. The plot reveals an internal struggle between that which is beautiful in life and the ugly and brutal. The language Lake uses adds to this internal struggle. Lake has pared away all the unnecessary words. I am sure his interest in linguistics was a benefit as he melded together the various languages and dialects of Haiti. The result is a narrative that is both lyrical and descriptive.

Reader’s Annotation:

A gritty story about a young boy and an old man trying to create meaning in a culture that sees them as little more than beasts.

Information About the Author:

Nick Lake is the Editorial Director for fiction at HarperCollins Children’s Books UK. during the day. Although In Darkness is his first book for adults and teens, he has published a couple of children’s books including the Blood Ninja trilogy.

He lives in England but he grew up in Luxembourg. He received a degree in English from Oxford University (Nick Lake biography). He has a Master’s Degree in Linguistics.

For more information please see Nick Lake’s website

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction
  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social justice course
  • World Issues
  • English

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

This book is one of the reasons I really appreciate the Printz Awards. This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own. It was added to my reading list because it won the Printz Awards.

Reviews:

In darkness. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 71.

“While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the fainthearted, and Shorty’s view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti’s complex history.”

Larson, G. (2012). In Darkness. School Library Journal, 58(12), 122.

“The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today.”

Rochman, H. (2012). In Darkness. Booklist, 108(9/10), 110-112.

Awards:

  • 2013 Michael L. Printz Award
  • 2013 ALA Best Fiction for Young Readers

References:

Nick Lake biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/Nick-Lake/62647477/biography

Orenstein, K. (2012). Haiti Rising ‘In Darkness,’ by Nick Lake. Sunday Book Reives (2012). Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/books/review/in-darkness-by-nick-lake.html?_r=0

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

CuriousincidentofdoginnighttimeBibliographic Information:

Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. New York: Doubleday.(0-385-65980-6)

Plot Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone finds the murdered body of Wellington, his neighbour’s poodle, late one evening. He liked Wellington and thinks that his killer should be punished so he decides to find out who killed the dog. The reader learns the subsequent tale through the book Christopher writes chronicling the investigation and the events that transpire as a result of his investigation. Although never stated, by following the story through Christopher’s point of view, the reader is led to understand that Christopher is an autistic teenager.

Critical Evaluation:

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been included as a text in many high school English programs for good reason. Haddon has created a work that covers a wide variety of themes and literary devices. His character of Christopher also provides great fodder for conversations about first person narrative and the concept of the “naïve narrator.”

Kunze (2010) in his article about the novel also suggests the novel is an excellent example of metafiction since the novel is shaped as the mystery story that Christopher was writing as a school project. The idea of truth and lie/real and fiction are further developed by Christopher as he tries to understand concepts of metaphor and meaning that is often inferred in language by context, emotion, and body language. As the novel progresses, this duality is further emphasized in his relationship with his father when Christopher learns his father had lied to him to protect him from some difficult news.

As an autistic teenager, Christopher struggles to understand his world through the rational. He likes mathematics because he can understand the patterns. So, he tries to find the patterns in the world around him; 4 red cars in a row make a Good Day, 5 red cars make a Super Great Day but 4 yellow cars in a row make a Black Day. He struggles to understand the emotional context of language and the interactions humans have.

Although in the extreme, these concerns are common to all people, particularly teenagers. We all struggle to interpret the cues we are given in language. I think this is one reason that this novel resonates so strongly with such a wide population. There’s a little Christopher in all of us.


Reader’s Annotation:

The death of a neighbour’s dog leads an autistic teenager on a perilous journey.

Information About the Author:

Mark Haddon is an artist, novelist, screenwriter, and poet. He was born September 26, 1962 in Northampton, England. He studied in Oxford University and later earned his master’s degree in English literature at Edinburgh University. In Scotland, he worked at Mencap (Kunze, 2010), an organization that supports people with disabilities in the community.

He has also created illustrations and cartoons for magazines and newspapers. He has also made a living painting and selling abstract art.

He wrote his first children’s book in 1987. Since then he has written and illustrated over fifteen books for children. He has also written for a number of children’s series for the BBC. In 1999 he won two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards), one of which was an award for his contribution to children’s television.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the first book Haddon intentionally wrote for adults. It is the first book to have been published simultaneously in two imprints – one for children and one for adults in England. His poetry collection, The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea was published in 2005.

For more information please see Mark Haddon’s website.

Genre:

  • Realistic novel
  • Mystery novel

Curriculum Ties:

  • English course
    • Point of view
    • Character development
    • Independence
  • Social Justice
    • People with special needs

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read part of the book and ask the students to describe the narrator
  • Read the scene with Christopher fights with his dad. Talk about how hard it be be to parent a child with Aspergers
  • People with disabilities
  • Autism – What is Asperger’s
  • Murder mysteries

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book?:

My original reason for reading the book was that my daughter (then 17) recommended it to me. I think is it is a great example of a crossover book. I also think Haddon has created an compelling character in Christopher

Reviews:

  • The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). (2003). Kirkus Reviews, 71(8), 557.
  • Hoffert, B. (2004). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time Time (Book). Library Journal, 129(1), 49. (Best books of 2003 section)
  • Huntley, K. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time (Book). Booklist, 99(15), 1376.

Awards:

  • 2005 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2004 Alex Award
  • 2004 WH Smith Award for Fiction, shortlist
  • 2004 South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature
  • 2003 Whitbread Novel Award
  • 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year
  • 2003 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  • 2003 Carnegie Medal, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award
  • 2003 British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year
  • 2003 British Book Awards Book of the Year, shortlist
  • 2003 British Book Awards Author of the Year,shortlist
  • 2003 Booktrust Teenage Prize

References:

Author: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/authors/mark-haddon

Kunze, P. (2010). Haddon, Mark. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Kunze, P. (2010). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time. In G. Hamilton & B. Jones (Authors), Encyclopedia of contemporary writers and their work. Retrieved from Bloom’s Literary Reference Online database.“

Mark Haddon (2013). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Haddon

Writers: Mark Haddon. Retrieved from http://literature.britishcouncil.org/mark-haddon

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

paper covers rock

Bibliographic Information:

Hubbard, J. (2011). Paper covers rock. New York: Delacorte Press.

Plot Summary:

Four friends secretly take a bottle to the river to share. While enjoying this respite from school, a dare ends in the death of a friend and a subsequent cover-up of the events to save the survivors from expulsion. When Miss Dovecott, an English teacher who sees Alex as a fledgling writer, starts asking questions about the accident, Alex confesses his confusion and guilt in a journal he hides in the library as he tries to deal with his accountability and feelings of guilt. As he reviews the events leading to the tragedy Alex starts to question if the death was really an accident.

Critical Evaluation:

Alex is suffering a personal and moral dilemma; he feels great guilt for what happened at the river but he is afraid of the consequences if anyone finds out. He has no one he trusts to talk to. So, he turns to a trusted teacher through a series of letters, poems, and journal entries he writes that he will never share. Through these writings, Alex describes the events leading to the death of his friend. He struggles with his confused memories of his friends and their conversations which suggest the accident may have been contrived to hide darker secrets. He exposes his attraction to his English teacher, Miss Dovecott. Finally, he acknowledges his weakness and flawed character.

The convention of epistolary writing sets the tone and controls the movement of the plot. Hubbard’s decision to have Alex tell the story through his letters and journal adds an extra level of intimacy to the reader’s experience while portraying the contractions in Alex’s emotions and actions. Using a first person limited view, Hubbard continues the theme of contradiction by providing the reader with full disclosure from one flawed point of view.

Another strength of this debut novel is its’ foundation built on classic literature and use of poetry. The use of poetry is particularly effective in building the tension in the themes of attraction and betrayal that underlay the plot.

Reader’s Annotation:

When a dare ends in the death of a friend, sixteen-year-old Alex uses his journal to try to understand what happened – was it an accident or was it murder?

Information About the Author:

Paper Covers Rocks is a debut novel for Jenny Hubbard. Hubbard has taught English classes at the high school and the college level. In fact, she has also taught in a private all-boys boarding school.

Jenny is also a poet and very active in the theatre where is an actor and a playwright.

For more information please see her site: http://papercoversrock.co/

Genre:

  • Realistic

Curriculum Ties:

  • Epistolary writing
  • Poetry

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Journal writing – start by reading one of Alex’s letters.
  • Friendship

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 6.4

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this title?:

I reviewed this book for our book club at the high school I teach. It was one of my favorite books last year. I have incorporated the review into this post.

Reviews:

  • Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, April 25, 2011:
    “Hubbard has a superb handle on her boarding school setting…A powerful, ambitious debut.”
  • Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
    “The story builds to a climax that will have readers on edge. It could be read alongside many of the classics that deal with friendship and loyalty, as well as deceit…Those who are looking for something to ponder will enjoy this compelling read.”
  • Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, July/August 2011:
    “Hubbard’s characters are confounding and intriguing…The traditional, buttoned-up boarding school setting makes the perfect backdrop to this tense dictation of secrets, lies, manipulation, and the ambiguity of honor.”
  • Starred Review, Booklist, July 1, 2011:
    “Both plotting and characters are thoroughly crafted in this stellar first novel. The poetry that Hubbard produces from Alex’s pen is brilliant, and the prose throughout is elegant in its simplicity. Reminiscent of John Knowles’ classic coming-of-age story, A Separate Peace (1959), this novel introduces Hubbard as a bright light to watch on the YA literary scene.”

Awards:

  • Winner 2011 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Award
  • Winner 2011 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Winner 2011 Horn Book Fanfare
  • Winner 2011 Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice
  • Nominee ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • Nominee North Carolina Children’s Book Award
  • Nominee Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
  • Nominee Young Adult Services Division, School Library Journal Author Award
  • 2012 Williams C. Morris Finalist http://www.ala.org/yalsa/morris

Hurricane Heat by Steven Barwin

hurricane heat

Barwin, S. (2013). Hurricane heat. Victoria, B.C: Orca Book Publishers.

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Travis Barkley has been separated from his sister, Amanda, since their parents’ death five years earlier. After the siblings were placed in separate foster homes, Amanda’s family moved from Arizona to California. At that point, the siblings lost contact with each other. Now, Travis is sure that Amanda was the one who sent him a blank postcard of Hermosa Beach Pier, and he decides he needs to find her. So, when school ends, with the blessing of his foster parents, Travis moves to Hermosa for the summer to try to track her down.

While searching for Amanda, Travis meets Ethan who encourages him to try out for his baseball team, the Hurricanes. Although Travis hasn’t played baseball since the death of his parents, his natural talent and love for the game become evident to the coach. Soon the possibility of scouts recruiting him and the dream of scholarships begin to conflict with his original focus of finding his sister.

Critical Evaluation:

Orca Books is a Canadian publisher that focuses on materials for the reluctant reader. The Orca Sports series are very popular with this population because the novels are short and full of action. The use of a sports theme can help to draw the reader to the book while the use of action, mystery and adventure keep the reader engaged.

Equally important, in Hurricane Heat, the main character is an older teen who is living on his own. Reluctant teen readers may need a book whose vocabulary is at a lower level but they still want to read about characters who they can relate to; age is an important factor in their willingness to read a book.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Travis receives a blank postcard, he knows that the sister he was separated from five years earlier is trying to contact him. Now he has to decide what is more important; finding her or his shot at the Big Leagues.

Information About the Author:

Steven Barwin is a Canadian who focuses on writing sports themed books because, simply, he loves sports.  Barwin says he always wanted to be a writer and started writing his own stories when he was in eighth grade. He went to Ryerson’s TV program and became a writing intern at CBC’s Royal Canadian Airfarce.

He was a reluctant reader as a child and, as a teacher, Barwin learned the importance of having books for reluctant readers. He indicates that he writes his sport books “like I write my scripts – filled with snappy dialogue and visuals that jump off the page” (“About – Steven Barwin”).

For more information, please visit Barwin’s site at http://www.stevenbarwin.com/

Genre:

  • Realistic
  • Sports
  • Hi/Lo – Reluctant Readers

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use the postcard to initiate the mystery.
  • Include in a baseball-themed booklist.
  • Include in a mystery booklist.

Hurricane Heat book trailer

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Interest level 12-18
  • Fry Reading level 3.3

Challenge Issues:

N/A

Why did you include this book?:

  • I reviewed this title originally for CM Magazine. I decided to include it because I felt that it is important to have hi/lo books represented.
  • Barwin is a well-known Canadian author.
  • Orca is an excellent source of resources for reluctant readers.

Review:

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

leverageBibliographic Information:

Cohen, J. (2011). Leverage. New York: Dutton Books.(0525423060)

Plot Summary:

Danny has a plan to get to college and away from the life he hates. To succeed, he has to focus on his gymnastics; despite the fact that gymnastics falls far down the totem pole of school funding. Football is the program that garners all the community support and, therefore, all the money. It’s tough enough being the underdog. Being a target for the football team’s bullying just comes with the territory.

In fact, that football money is what has brought newcomer, Kurt, to the school. Kurt has a history that he wants to hide and he, too, hopes to gain a future for himself through a sport – football. Kurt soon realizes that getting his dream may mean stepping on some other students who are weaker and more vulnerable.

When a series of escalating pranks end in a suicide, Danny and Kurt have to decide what happens now.

Critical Evaluation:

Cohen has done a credible job in creating two distinct voices in his characters of Danny and Kurt. Kurt’s history of abuse provides a strong foundation for explaining his grim focus on football as well as his admiration for the smaller and equally talented gymnasts. Danny’s backstory underscores his determination to get as far away from his hometown that he can.

Cohen has provided an interesting juxtaposition of strong and weak within both of his main and secondary characters. Indeed, Danny and Kurt are excellent examples of the flawed hero. For example, although physically strong with an impressive football build, Kurt has been emotionally and psychologically scarred because of the abuse he suffered in his past. Although intelligent, he appears to be slow because of his stutter and lack of social skills. Despite of growing up in poverty and abuse, Kurt has a strong moral code that he must struggle to reconcile with the realities of his situation.

The reader is led to compare Kurt and his flaws to the other football stars who have been made into heroes by a community steeped in a winning football tradition. These secondary characters by all appearances are strong, successful and popular. But, as the story progresses, the reader is introduced to the ugly world of bullying, steroids, and ego.

Although similar in their focus on escaping their respective situations, these two main characters have very distinct voices and through their respective lenses, the underbelly of competitive sports is revealed. Ultimately, this is a story of personal responsibility, choice, and accountability.

Reader’s Annotation:

When an escalating series of pranks and bullying causes the death of a student, two students have to decide whether the truth is more important than their future dreams.

Leverage is a gritty and violent tale full of the glory of football and the fear of being the underdog; where the good guy does not always win and right is relative.

Information About the Author:

Joshua C. Cohen played many sports while he was growing up in Minnesota. His favorite sport was gymnastics but he did not have the right body type to perform at an elite level. Instead, he was able to take his training in a different direction and became a dancer.

Cohen stared writing Leverage when he read about an attack on a group of underclassmen by their senior teammates. He says that when the victims came forward, they were verbally attacked by the community for “sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season” (Cohen)

For more information about Joshua Cohen, visit his website http://www.leveragethebook.com/

Genre:

  • Realistic
  • Sports

Curriculum Ties:

  • Identity
  • Character development, voice
  • Choice

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Rape
  • Bullying
  • Suicide

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    1. Ask if he/she has read the book
    2. Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    1. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion       documents
    2. Provide school’s selection policy
    3. Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this book?:

In all honestly, I do not like this book. I appreciate the different voices of Kurt and Danny. I also believe that Cohen has told a story that needs to be told. His focus on football and the hype and pressures young men are under to succeed – even to the detriment of their health – should be told.

Awards:

  • Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011),
  • YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults (2012)
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults

Reviews:

  • Kraus, D. (2010). Leverage. Booklist, 107(8), 45.
  • Leverage. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(24), 1265.
  • Wilson, B. (2011). Leverage. Booklist, 107(18), 5

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

boy meets boyBibliographic Information:

Levithan, D. (2005). Boy meets boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Plot Summary:
Paul is comfortable in his skin. He has grown up in a family that has supported and accepted him throughout his life. He lives in a town that is supportive of all types of people. In fact, he found out that he was gay from his kindergarten teacher when he was five-years-old.

Even though his life is pretty good he cannot escape some high school drama. When his best friend decides to break up with him and his ex-boyfriend decides he wants to be part of his life again, things get complicated with his new love, Noah.
Critical Evaluation:
The simplicity of Levithan’s plot and language make the plot accessible to the reader. The narrative arc also follows the traditional pattern of a romance.  The simplicity of the story allows the reader to appreciate some of the literacy devices artfully employed by the author.

For example, the idealized world Levithan created for Paul, such as the supportive school with the transsexual football star, supportive town, and family, is negatively mirrored by the lack of support and desire of suppression portrayed by Tony’s family and the lack of interest or affection in Noah’s family.

The simplicity of the writing also allows the reader focus on the diverse group of characters in a utopian world. In Levithan’s utopia, gender and sexuality are simply not an issue. There is no segregation of the homosexual community.  Teenagers of all types gather to dance in a bookstore. There are motorcycle-riding cheerleaders. The transsexual homecoming queen is also the football quarterback. The ex-boyfriend turns out to be bisexual.

In the end, Levithan is looking at relationships. He is looking at relationships between siblings, boys that are friends, boyfriend-boyfriend, friends of the opposite gender, parent to child, and boyfriend-girlfriend. He also looks at what type of relationships exist after break-ups.


Reader’s Annotation:

When Paul’s best friend decides to break up with him and his ex-boyfriend decides he wants to be part of his life again, things get complicated with his new love, Noah. Paul holds out hope that he will be able to beat the odds and reunite before the Dowager Dance. After all, in a high school with motorcycling cheerleaders and a homecoming queen who is also the star quarterback, anything is possible.

Information About the Author:

David Levithan is a man with many hats. He has worked for Scholastic since he was 19 and has moved through the ranks to be an editorial director of Scholastic Press fiction. As an editor, he has been involved with several series including Star Wars and the Baby-sitters Club.

In 2002, he founded the PUSH imprint which is interested in “new voices and new authors in teen literature.” Through PUSH, Levithan has worked with such well-known authors such as Suzanne Collins, M.T. Anderson, and Garth Nix.

Boy Meets Boy was published in 2003 and started his career as an author. Since that time he has published a number of books. He has co-authored a couple of books and has become a crossover writer with his adult book, Lover’s Dictionary.

For more information, please visit his website, http://www.davidlevithan.com/

Genre:

  • GLBTQ
  • Romance

Curriculum Ties:

  • Personal identity
  • Plot development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “Romance by any other name” booklist
  • “Not your typical high school”   booklist
  • Create some notes that Paul and Noah may have sent to each other.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Grades 9-12
  • Reading level 6.2

Challenge Issues:

  • Homosexuality and transsexual identity
  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    1. Ask if he/she has read the book
    2. Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    1. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    2. Provide school’s selection policy
    3. Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this book?:

  • Won the 2003 Lambda Literary Award in the Children/Young Adult section.
  • Reviews:
    • Jones, T. (2003). Boy Meets Boy (Book). School Library Journal, 49(9), 216-217.
    • Boy Meets Boy. (2005). Publishers Weekly, 252(27), 97.
    • Cart, M. (2003). Boy Meets Boy (Book). Booklist, 99(22), 1980.

Additional resources:

Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal (January 10, 2004) retrieved at http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA456885.html

David Levithan’s site: http://www.davidlevithan.com/

Lambda Awards: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards/