Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zane Grey's Birthday: Western Novels

Today is Zane Grey's birthday. He'd be turning 141. Zane Grey popularized the genre of the Western. Fun Fact: Zanesville, OH is named after his grandfather.

Anyway, in honor of Zane Grey, here are some Westerns for teens. (I've never actually read any Zane Grey, so I can't say if his work has teen appeal, so he's not on the list.)


Which Way to the Wild West?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About Westward Expansion by Steve Sheinkin. This more for the tween end of the spectrum, but it's a fun and funny look at the history of Western expansion. It's wide-ranging and accessible, but never boring.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: The Illustrated Edition: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown. This history of Westward Expansion is told from the side of the people's who were already living there. Each chapter focuses on another tribe as it moves through time. A classic work, I like this edition because it has maps, which are very useful in a book that covers this geographical range.

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tillburg Clark. This classic novel turns many Western novel conventions on their head as it examines mob mentality with the lynching of innocent men. Published for adults, it's often taught in high schools.

Shane by Jack Schaefer. Although this classic was published for adults, it's a teen favorite, helped by the fact it's narrated by a young person. Bob's family is homesteading in Wyoming, but rancher Fletcher wants Bob's family and the other homesteaders out. When Shane rides into town and helps Bob's family around the farm, they just might have a chance against Fletcher, at at survival.


Year of the Horse by Justin Allen. Yen Tzu-lu is sent on a Western adventure to help recover a stolen mine. In an alternate West populated with characters and themes from Americana, this is a western with a twist of fantasy.

Written in Blood by John Wilson. This slim volume is full with action as Jim Doolen travels from his Canadian home to Mexico, searching for news of his missing father. The first in a trilogy, the second is Ghost Moon.

Bloody Chester by JT Petty and Hilary Florido. In this full-color graphic novel, Chester is a scrawny teenager trying to survive in the brutal world of the Wild West. He gets a break when he gets a job to burn down a ghost town to make room for the railroad--only to find that people still live there and they're not about to leave.


Gun Blaze West , Vol. 1 by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Viu Bannes is set on becoming the best gunslinger in the West. To further this goal, he sets off to find Gun Blaze West, a mythical land that will guarantee he is the best--if he can survive it. This manga series is only three volumes long.

Black Storm Comin' by Diane Lee Wilson. Colton's family is stranded in Nevada, on their way to California. Needing money to pay a doctor for his mother, Colton joins the pony express, hoping it will take him to Sacramento, where he can deliver freedom papers to his aunt, an escaped slave.

True Grit by Charles Portis. Mattie may only be 14, but she's following the tracks of the man that killed her father and stole his money and horse in order to exact her revenge. Although published for adults, teens will enjoy this book. This edition even contains an afterward by Leonard Marcus and directed at teen readers.

What are your favorite teen books about the Wild West?

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

On this day in 1847, the town of Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco, to bring it in line with what everyone was calling it. In honor of this, today we feature books that take place in that fabled city.


Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. Everything in Lola's life comes crashing down when the Bell twins move back next door. Lola and Cricket may or may not have had a thing before they left, and Lola's moved on. Or so she thought. When her birth mother shows up on her doorstep and moves in with Lola and her dads, things get that much more complicated.

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman. Jade Moon is a girl that no one wants, too willful, too stubborn, too outspoken. in 1923, she travels to America, which she thinks is a new chance, but ends up detained on Angel Island where she discovers the truth. She up disguising herself as a boy, escapes the island, and ends up working for a Chinatown gang.

Love and Haight by Susan Carlton. In 1971, best friends Chloe and MJ go off to San Francisco for New Year's Eve, but Chloe is secretly pregnant and wants to terminate it. California and New York are the only places to do so legally, but it's still not easy--emotionally, mentally, or logistically.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. Originally a newspaper serial, this adult novel chronicles the lives or the residents of one kooky apartment building in the 1970s. Part love letter and part satire, it's the first in a long running series and a favorite of mine as a teen. Follow it with More Tales of the City.


Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. When hacker Marcus is caught near the site of a terrorist attack, he and his friends are swept into the shady world of DHS interrogations. When they're finally released, San Francisco is a police state, so Marcus and his friends are going to take DHS down.

family by Micol Ostow. Told in verse and loosely based on the Manson family, Ostow offers a chilling tale of Melinda, an abused girl who runs away to San Francisco. Once there, she meets Henry, who offers her a family that shares everything. Mel has finally found a place to belong, if only she goes along with everything they do.

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs. Three girls with different lives are haunted by monsters. When they meet, they're shocked to discover that they're triplets, and descendants of Medusa, and are destined to fight monsters to keep the streets of San Francisco face. The action really picks up Sweet Shadows.

Miss Fortune Cookie by Laura Bjorkman. Erin is a white girl born in China, and now living in San Francisco's Chinatown. She's also the anonymous voice behind the advice blog, Miss Fortune Cookie. When she gets a letter from her ex-best friend, she sees an opportunity to fix their broken relationship, but her advice just makes things worse.


Fresh Off the Boat by Melissa de la Cruz. Vicenza Arambullo and her family have recently immigrated from Manila to San Francisco. In the Philippines, they were rich, and now they're struggling. Vicenza has a scholarship to an elite girls school. She has to navigate a new culture, boys, mean girls, and teenage life.

Earth Shook, the Sky Burned, the ; 100th Anniversary Edition: A Photographic Record of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire by William Bronson. Sadly out of print, this is a book well worth tracking down. This is a beautiful and moving photographic chronicle of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Published for adults, I spent countless hours pouring over this as a teen.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. The recession causes Clay to lose his web job and he ends up at a bookstore where the few customers they have never seem to buy anything. Clay realizes something fishy is going on, and starts to investigate and is thrust in a world of secret societies. Published for adults, this was one of this year's Alex winners.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Told in interlocking short stories, Tan follows four Chinese women and their American-born daughters. Spanning time and continents, it's a look at multiple mother/daughter relationships and immigrant experiences. A modern classic, it was a teen favorite of mine.

What are your favorite books that take place in San Francisco?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Youth Media Awards Roundup!

Yesterday, the ALA announced the winners of the Youth Media Awards. It's the children's and teen lit version of the Oscars, but with jeans instead of ballgowns. So, what won for teens?


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Well, this was the big teen winner of the day! It won the Stonewall Award, the Pura BelPre author award, and was a Printz honor. Take a good look at that beautiful cover while you can-- it will soon be overwhelmed with medals! Ari and Dante seem to be opposites, but become best friends as they deal with family drama and figuring out the secrets of identity and the universe.

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. This was the day's other big winner, winning the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (full disclosure-- I was on that committee), the Siebert Award (also for nonfiction) and a Newbery Honor. Sheinkin weaves together tales of scientific discovery, partisan sabotage, and spies as the US, Nazi Germany, and the USSR race to build a nuclear weapon while trying to keep the others from being able to do the same.

Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer. This won the teen catagory of the Schneider Family Award, an award that recognizes the best book to " embody an artistic expression of the disability experience." After his convoy is rocked by explosion, Ben is in a coma. When he finally awakes, he has no memory of anything. Ben, his friends, and his family have to find a way to deal with this new normal.

In Darkness by Nick Lake. This was this year's Printz winner. Shorty is trapped by rubble after the Haitian earthquake. With no food or water, and rescue being slow in coming, he's unsure if he will survive. In weakened delirium, he sees Haitian independance leader Touissant l’Ouverture, and tries to make sense of the life that's led him to this point.


No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. This won a Coretta Scott King author honor. Told in monologues, newspaper articles, and ephemera, Micheaux Nelson recreates the life of her great-uncle, legendary Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux.

My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoevre, translated from the German by Tammi Reichel. This was this year's Batchelder Winner. Franziska Mangold escapes Nazi Germany through the Kinderstransport program, but when the war ends, she must decide to stay in England with her new family or return to see if anyone's left in her actual family.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. This won the Morris Award. On the eve of the peace treaty's anniversary, the murder of a prince threatens an fresh outbreak of war between humans and dragons. Caught in the middle is Seraphina, a court musician who is secretly half dragon.

Alanna: The First Adventure (The Song of the Lioness, Book 1) by Tamora Pierce. Pierce is this year's Margaret Edward's Award winner, the lifetime achievement award for writing for young adults. Alanna is her first book, about a girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can realize her dream of becoming a knight.


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This was a Printz Honor title. A spy caught behind enemy lines, Verity writes her confession for the Gestapo, hoping it will save her life.

Dodger by Terry Prachett. This was a Printz honor. Galavanting around London, rubbing elbows with the famous and infamous characters of the time (both real and fictional), Prachett gives us Oliver Twist's Artful Dodger as we have never seen him before.

The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna. Taylor has Asperger's and is spending the summer babysitting in Southern France. Interweaving scenes from her life with those from this summer, the reader gets to see the world through Taylor's eyes. The third in a series, White Bicyle stands alone, but as it was a surprise win, it's seriously backordered. While you wait, check out Wild Orchid, Brenna's first book about Taylor.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached, translated from the Lebanese by Edward Gauvin. This was a Batchelder honor. In this graphic novel memoir, Zeina is used to the civil war, as it has been raging her entire life. But, one night, her parents don't return and the violence comes closer and closer to home. Her neighbors wait up with Zeina and her brother as they wait for morning.


The Revolution of Evelyn Serranoby Sonia Manzano. This was a Pura BelPre author honor. In 1969, The Young Lords create in uprising in Evelyn's Spanish Harlem neighborhood. The fight spills into her own home, as Evelyn's grandmother supports the Young Lords, but her mother does not, with Evelyn caught in the middle. (Also, Manzano is probably BEST known as Maria from Sesame Street.)

Drama by Raina Telgemeier. This was a Stonewall honor book. Callie loves working backstage, even when it means trying to create a world-class set on a budget of nothing. Her theater friends sometimes offer an escape from the confusing world of boys, but sometimes just make it that much more confusing.

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moscowitz. This is a Stonewall honor book. Told in alternating between Craig and Lio, the boys deal with family issues, the aftermath of 9/11, and the sniper shootings terrorizing Washington, DC. They can find solace and happiness in each other, but only if they allow themselves to open up to someone new.

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman. This was a Stonewall honor book. The author of Heather Has Two Mommies, Newman was on campus to speak at Gay Awareness week at the University of Wyoming when Matthew Shephard was brutally attacked and murdered. This novel tells the story in verse from many perspectives.

Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie by S. J. Adams. This was a Stonewall honor. In this madcap adventure, Debbie joins Emma and Tim in their made-up religion, the Church of Blue. Each is given a Holy Quest to fulfill. Debbie's is to confess her true feelings (love) to her best friend, Lisa, and to do it before Lisa and her boring boyfriend go too far.

What were your favorite winners? Which ones were you sad to see not get recognized? Which ones surprised you?

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Christa McAuliffe Day: Books About Space

On this day in 1986, the Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off. All the crew members were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher chosen to be a part of the mission. Today is Christa McAuliffe day, and in honor of her, and the entire Challenger crew, I offer a list of books about space and space travel.


Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. When the space program was starting, women who were accomplished pilots wanted to be astronauts. Although they proved they could perform just as well as the men eventually chosen, sexism kept them out of outer space. Even after women were allowed, for many years, it was as scientists and mission specialists, not as pilots.

Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, illustrated by Alan Bean. Chaikin walks the readers through each space mission from Mercury through Apollo 17, detailing what the mission was supposed to accomplish, how it worked, and how it was a building block towards future missions. Alan Bean was on the Apollo 12 and walked on the moon. He is also a painter, and his painting illustrate this gorgeous book.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach. In this adult text, Roach answers all the questions we've ever asked about the nitty gritty details of space travel. (How bad does it smell after a few weeks in a capsule? How do you poop in zero gravity?) In addition to finally getting the answers we always wanted, Roach makes a compelling case for continuing to explore in space.

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch. From conception to today, Rusch follows the adventures of Spirit and Opportunity. Initially designed to last 90 days, Spirit and Opportunity would land on Mars and do the experiments that humans couldn't do. 8 years later, Opportunity is STILL going.


Laika by Nick Abadzis. This moving graphic novel tells of the story of Laika, the dog sent into space by the USSR on Sputnik II, the scientists working on the space program, and the people who cared for the dog. Using recent revelations, Abadzi lays to rest many of Laika's myths and tells us the cold, hard truths about her amazing journey.

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Kevin Canon and Zander Canon. Alternating between the US and the USSR, this graphic novel looks at many of the successes and failures of each country's space programs. the myriad of people involved, and the crucial race to be the first to land a man on the moon.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This omnibus edition brings together Adams's entire series about hapless Arthur Dent, an earthling who manages to hitch a ride on a passing space ship moments before the Earth is destroyed. With his new friends, he learns the ins and outs of hitching through space (it's helpful to always bring a towel) while exploring the answer to the greatest question.


Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi. It's something that all new crew members on the Universal Union's flagship ship learn-- never go on an away mission. Away missions on this ship have unusually high death rates. When things go wrong, the captain gets a far-off look in his eye and will suddenly wax poetic, you'll find yourself saying things you never would say normally, and random black boxes of science suddenly work, but only at the very last moment. Meta-fiction and loving satire, you don't have to be a fan of cheesy sci-fi to enjoy this title.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad, translated from the Norwegian by Tara Chace. NASA decides to start sending people back to the moon, and holds a lottery for 3 teens to go, in a bid for corporate sponsorship. Once there, the teens learn there was a reason the original moon missions were stopped, for something is out there, and it's up them to see if it's still there, and to survive it if they find it.

Losers in Space by John Barnes. In a society where everything depends on your fame level, 9 teens decide to up their ratings by stowing away on a mission to Mars, but when the something on the mission goes wrong, the teens must find a way to survive. It would be easier if they had any sort of skills. And if one of them weren't a sociopath.

There will be more space lists throughout the year, but what are your favorites, fiction and nonfiction?

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Countdown to ALA: The Printz Award

The Printz Award is for is for a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature." Last year's winner, Where Things Come Back, and a 2011 honor book, Nothing were included in my favorite Morris and Batchelder awards. 2009's winner, Jellicoe Road, the 2009 honor book Tender Morsels, and the 2007 honor book The Book Thief were on yesterday's Australia Day list. The 2004 winner, The First Part Last was featured in my list of favorite Coretta Scott King winnersAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson was on my list for Someday We'll Laugh About This Week, and was an honor book 2001.

Here are some other of my Printz favorites:


Going Bovine by Libba Bray. In this retelling of Don Quixote, Cameron goes on a journey with his dwarf best friend, guided by an angel with pink hair. It may be the greatest road-trip ever, or it may just been a hallucination brought on by mad-cow disease. It won in 2010.

Nation by Terry Prachett. Mau's entire island village is destroyed by tsunami. He's the only one left until he comes across Daphne, a white girl shipwrecked on his island by the same deadly wave. Together they find a way to survive and move on from the tragedy, while still examining the greater questions of life. This was a 2009 honor book.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Disgusted by certain aspects of her elite boarding school, Frankie infiltrates the all-male Order of the Basset Hounds. Despite the fact her father and boyfriend are members, Frankie's supposed to pretend she doesn't know it exists. Instead, she makes it do her bidding without their knowledge. This was a 2009 honor book.


American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Told in three parts, this graphic novel's stories eventually merge into a single tale about accepting who you are. Jin Wong just wants to be an all-American kid instead of an immigrant one. Danny (a truly all-American kid) is horribly embarrassed by the antics of his cousin Chin-Kee. And Monkey wants to be the most revered of all the gods. In 2007 this became the first (and so far, only) graphic novel to win the Printz award.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson. Octavian is a slave, but one owned by a group of scientists, who give him an extensive classical education and closely monitor and document his growth and development, both phyiscal and mental. But as their expirements get more and more risky, Octavian has to admit certain hard truths about the reality of his situation. Told in a fitting and perfect 18th century voice, this was an Printz honor in 2007. The second half of the story, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves was an honor in 2009 and follows Octavians time in the Royalist army during the American Revolution.

Keesha's House by Helen Frost. This verse novel tells of a group of teens who have found a safe place living with their classmate, Keesha. Each teen has a distinct voice and a distinct poetic form as they tell of what causes them to need a safe haven and how they end up at Keesha's house. It was a 2004 honor book.


The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Caroline Mackler. Virginia feels out of place in her plus-sized body and over-achieving magazine-beautiful family. When her older brother is accused of a crime, she struggles with her own reactions, and the reactions of her parents. This was also a 2004 honor book.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Right before the start of high school, there was a party. At the party something happened, so Melinda called the cops. Because she called the cops, no one will talk to her. Because no one will talk, no one will listen, so Melinda stops talking, too. This was an honor book in 2000, the first year the Printz was awarded.

What are you hoping wins this year? What are your favorite Printz titles?

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